Sunday, February 19, 2012

Executive Order 9066: The Internment Camp Art of Kasumi “Gus” Nakagawa

"Latrine and Laundry"

This month, at the galleries of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, I’m pleased to be presenting an exhibit I think is of some historic significance: The internment camp watercolors of Kasumi “Gus” Nakagawa.

Gus Nakagawa

February 19, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 9066, authorizing the exclusion of persons of Japanese ancestry from designated areas of Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona, in order to prevent any possible acts of espionage or sabotage.  More than 110,000 Japanese Americans were ordered to dispose of their homes and possessions within a matter of days, and report for relocation, bringing with them only what they could carry. 

Evacuation Order

Due process of law was suspended as they were rounded up without being charged of any crime and banished to prison camps in isolated regions of the country for the duration of World War II.   

In the early 1940’s, Gus Nakagawa along with his parents and siblings were sent to the War Department Internment Center in Poston, Arizona, near the California border. 

While there, the still teenaged Gus produced a series of watercolor paintings during his family’s three years of internment.

This photo presumably taken by camp officals while artists were painting a mural.

At Poston, Gus studied watercolor painting under Gene Sogioka (a former Disney animator). Fellow students included Harry Yoshizumi whose work is held in the Japanese-American Archival Collection, Cal State Sacramento

"Barracks" by Nakagawa

"Garage" by Nakagawa

"Outdoors" by Nakagawa

 "Afternoon Dust Storm"  Watercolor by K.Takamura
(The  remarkable piece above is probably the work of Kango Takamura. It was among the works held by the Nakagawa family. Takamura had been a photo retoucher for RKO Studios before his internment at the Manzanar camp).

Cameras (and other recording devices) were not allowed at Poston and in most cases were confiscated.This means that the artwork by Nakagawa and other interned artists is the only personal visual record in existence.

After the war, Nakagawa studied at the Arts Student League in New York and worked as a commercial artist on the East Coast. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is in the Huntington Library Collection. Gus is now deceased.  The artworks in this exhibit are now held by his brother Henry Nakagawa, age 91.

David and Henry Nakagawa

The Nakagawa family has loaned the works to the Center for the February exhibit.

A few shots from the art reception.

Harry Cohen and Al Ardelle

Leah Stander, Scott Oakes and Molly
Thanks to David Nakagawa for all his tremendous work on this exhibit.
Artwork and memorabilia courtesy of the Nakagawa family

Here are a few sources on the subject:

Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps by Deborah Gesensway and Mindy Roseman

"Internment and Identity in Japanese American Art " by Kristine C. Kuramitsu, American Quarterly #4, Dec. 1995

Treasures from Ten Centuries  The Huntington Libary, 2004
(features Gus Nakagawa's artwork)

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