Adsense for search

Custom Search

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii" Opens at Washington State History Museum

Takuichi FujiiMinidoka, “This is barbed wire around Block 24,” (not dated). Watercolor on paper, 13½ × 10 inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.

At a time in when immigrants and people of color have many reasons to feel less secure than ever, a new exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma is particularly relevant. Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii opens on Saturday, September 16, 2017 and will continue through Jan. 1, 2018. Visitors will see 70 works of art expressing an intimate view of Japanese American imprisonment in detention camps during World War II. They stand as a testament to one artist's perseverance, resilience, and will to create, even in the worst of circumstances. No official photos offer this personal point of view.

Takuichi Fujii, High School Girl, ca. 1934-1935. Oil on canvas, 22¾ × 29 inches. Wing Luke Museum Collection. Photo: Richard Nicol. (Painted while in Seattle)

A book titled The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artist and Wartime Winess (University of Washington Press), by Barbara Johns, inspired this exhibit. She is also the curator. As an art historian, Johns knew of Fujii's artistic career in pre-war Seattle. However, no one seemed to know what happened to him once the war began. While doing research on the topic of Seattle's first-generation Japanese (Issei) artists, for her doctorate dissertation, Johns discovered the starkly revealing works Fujii created during the 3½ years he and his family spent in detention. During that time, he produced 250 works of art, including 130 watercolor paintings, ink drawings, and some three-dimensional pieces. Johns also became aware of Fujii's grandson, Sandy Kita, who happened to be translating the captions and comments in Fujii's 400-page "diary" of images. Visitors to the exhibit can see a digital copy.

Takuichi Fujii, Minidoka, “This area’s famous phenomenon of the sandstorm can make even the day dark. It is really something,” (not dated). Watercolor on paper, 10½ × 14½ inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.
Fuji was born in Japan in 1891. Arriving in Seattle in 1906, he made a life there as a businessman, husband, father of two daughters, and also as an artist. He painted views of the city's Japantown, the waterfront, as well as landscapes of the more arid eastern half of the state. Although he did paint images of people, including portraits of his daughters shown in the exhibit, he seemed to be more fascinated with capturing a sense of place. By the 1930s, Fujii had made a name for himself as an artist, both in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. His work was on display in places as far away as New York and Chicago. 

Takuichi Fujii, Minidoka, mess hall abstraction, (not dated).  Ink on paper, 6¼ × 7½ inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.
After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, everything changed. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the Secretary of War the authority to establish "military areas." Nowhere in this document are the words "Japanese" or "Japanese Americans," yet this piece of paper would bring about the incarceration of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ethnicity (even if only 1/16 Japanese) without having been charged with any crime and without due process. Approximately 60% were American citizens. The rest, born in Japan, were forbidden by U.S. law to become citizens, no matter how much they desired to do so. 

In May of 1942, Fujii and his family members were forced to leave Seattle, joining hundreds of other Puget Sound area Japanese families temporarily housed in livestock barns at the Washington Sate Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. He was 50 years old at the time. Then, crowded into train cars in extremely hot weather, they were sent east to Idaho, to the Minidoka "War Relocation Center" (as this prison was euphemistically called). 

The camp closed in October of 1945. As in the case of so many other prisoners, the disruption of relocation, the loss of property (real and personal), livelihoods, homes, and community, made a return to their pre-war existence impossible. Many politicians and others still did not want them anywhere near the coast. A great number of Japanese American families, including the Fujiis, settled in Chicago.

Takuichi Fujii, Fusano and Takuichi Fujii, ca. 1943-1945. Wood, left: 8¼ × 3 inches, right: 9 × 4 × 3¼ inches. Photo: Richard Nicol.

While in Minidoka, Fujii did some of his paintings on corrugated cardboard or whatever material he could acquire. Other pieces, being undated, might have been created from memory after the war. No one could ever forget. Fujii remained in Chicago for the rest of his life, which ended in 1964. Fortunately, his wife, Fusano Fujii, saved his wartime creations, as did her daughter, who ultimately passed them along to her son, Fujii's grandson, Sandy Kita who, along with his wife, Terry Kita, has graciously made them available for this exhibit. 

"To find a previously unknown collection of this depth and caliber is an extraordinary experience, and doubly so to be able to bring it to public attention," Johns said . "I'm deeply pleased that the Washington State History Museum will present Takuichi Fujii's work—in the region in which he first made his home in America, and in this 75th commemorative year after the mass exclusion of West Coast Japanese Americans." 

A visit to this exhibit is sure to affect the viewer profoundly. Art has never served a greater purpose than to make us think. Unfortunately, those in our society and government who ought to see this type of exhibit, and would possibly learn from it, seem to have the least interest in doing so.

For complete information on planning your visit, please click here

Please "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook. Thank you!

No comments: