Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wendy Maruyama's Executive Order 9066

"Important" is the best one word description for the Wendy Maruyama exhibit, Executive Order 9066, which was organized by, and debuted at, The Society of Arts and Crafts September 8 to November 3, 2012. In this body of work, Wendy has focused her considerable talents on highlighting the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II through the executive order issued by FDR. It is a sad, but often forgotten, part of our history, so Wendy has done a great service to bringing the event back to life so that viewers can learn about it on a visceral level through her art. This show is a wonderful example of how art can be used to teach history without being without being dogmatic or preachy.

The first piece to encounter was this representative of The Tag Project in which Wendy recreated, with the help of dozens of volunteers, the tags issued to each of the interned Japanese Americans. Organized by the ten camps to which they were assigned, there are, therefore, ten sets of tags, each with about 12,000 names attached. Because SAC's space is very limited, only one group was displayed for this exhibit, however, all should be on view at the other museum sites the show will travel to. With The Tag Project, Wendy has created an innovative and aesthetic way to convey the enormity of the internment. 
The Tag Project
paper, string, ink, thread
132" x 10" x 10"
One of the things I found interesting about the series is the restraint that Wendy employed in creating the work. Hinamatsuri (Girl's Day) is a great example. For someone like Wendy, who has tremendous skill and talent in working with wood, to create something so stark and "simple" is an amazing feat in itself. Most artist look for opportunities to "show off" their skill and dazzle viewers with works they know their audience could never do. But here, Wendy is showing she cares more about conveying the stark reality internment than impressing us with works of stunning skill and complexity.
Hinamatsuri (Girl's Day)
wood, tar paper, glass, 40's era doll
26" x 48" x 3"
I particularly like how she uses ripped tar paper to create something that refers to cheap, haphazard, temporary construction of the camps while also seeming to refer to abstract expressionist paintings, like Rothko's deeply emotional black series. 
Hinamatsuri (closeup)
In this piece, ID, you can see the image of a child wearing an internment tag behind a "bar" (a reference to imprisonment I assume) inside one of Wendy's art cabinets.
pine, paper tags, ink
33" x 11.5" x 5"
Landlocked is another "simple" piece that uses common materials, like tar paper and plywood, to convey a direct emotional experience to the viewer. 
wood, tarpaper, nails, found objects
25.5" x 48" x 3"
Landlocked (closeup)
Land of the Free is a diptych made with sliding door cabinets, a faux functional form that Wendy has used several times for this series. It creates a variety of viewing experiences, thereby engaging the viewer to be more personally involved with the work and the past. 
Land of the Free (diptych - first section)
fir, pine, ink, plant materials
7" x 120" x 6"
Land of the Free (diptych - second section)
Land of the Free (diptych - second section, second view)

The piece, Manzanar, refers to the best preserved of the camps which is now a National Historic Site. Although it is, technically, not a diptych like the Land of the Free, it also provides many viewing experiences.
pau ferro, fir, ink, wire, encaustic
7" x 61" x 6"
Manzanar (second view)
I particularly like the curly fir she selected for the sliding doors, I assume because it refers to the mountains that over look the site.
Manzanar (closeup)
You're A Sap Mr. Jap is a black tar paper and nail "painting" that plays a continuous loop of the first Popeye cartoon, of the same name, in the lower right corner. It is a completely racist piece of wartime propaganda which you can view for yourself at this link. Again, the lack of elaborate construction of this piece makes an even more powerful statement than if Wendy dazzled us with elaborate design.
You're A Sap Mr. Jap
tar paper, wood, Popeye cartoon video
48" x 48" x 3"
You're A Sap Mr. Jap (closeup)
I saw this piece, A Question of Loyalty, last year at the Fuller Craft Museum's Furniture Divas show and wrote about it here. The piece quotes what I assume was an oath that Japanese Americans needed to sign, pledging allegiance to the US. The door can be slid to reveal an answer of "YES" or "NO." It is one of the more purely beautiful pieces in the exhibit, being made with live-edge, worm-hole infested, ash.    
A Question of Loyalty
ash, ink
9.5" x 50.5" x 14"
Watch Tower is another deceptive faux cabinet. With the door closed, it looks like just another nice decorative, Asian-inspired wall cabinet that any fine cabinetmaking might build. With the door open, it becomes a work of art that makes a powerful statement.
Watch Tower
pine, sitka spruce, fir, painted wood bowls, glass, ink
31.5" x 17.5" x 7.5"
Zenmetsu is, again, an aesthetically beautiful piece that plays with the concepts of function, art, decoration, and meaning. The English translation of the title is annihilation. In the center, behind some glass, is a pile of broken porcelain.
tamo, ash, paper, porcelain shards
7 x 72.5 x 6
Wendy used tamo, a highly figured Japanese ash, for the top and bottom of the "cabinet."
Zenmetsu (top view)
The exhibit also includes historical artifacts from the camps, including some of the art of gaman, crafts and sculptures made by Japanese Americans during their internment, as well as these pieces of historic luggage. They are much more powerful when you read the names on them: June T. Watanabe; Lillian Sasaki; Gii Yoshioka; K. Hongu. I read the names and I think, "Really? Lillian Sasaki intimidated you so much you had to ship her off to an internment camp in the middle of a desert? What could she do? Knit a sweater with her coordinates in morse code?" It helps to clarify how irrational and senseless this part of our history was, and a good reminder to how vigilant we need to be against letting our fears create such irrationality in the future.

Executive Order 9066 will travel to four additional venues into 2015 and I highly recommend seeing it if you get a chance. Here is the schedule:

Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR, February 1 to April 21, 2013

Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ, September 28, 2013 to January 4, 2014

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, March 1 to May 24, 2014

Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco, CA, October 2, 2014 to January 4, 2015.

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