Morikami Displays a Private Chronicle of an American Tragedy

There are few scenes of outright struggling and distress within the illustrations and watercolors of Takuichi Fujii, a first-generation Japanese American dwelling in Seattle who, like 120,000 of his fellow U.S. residents of Japanese descent, spent years interned in a labor camp in the course of the outbreak of World Warfare II. Maybe that’s as a result of, like many artists within the nice realist custom, Fujii was not liable to hyperbole, and he didn’t use his expertise to create agitprop. Righteous anger, it appears, was not his forte, though it will actually have been justified.

Judging by the handfuls of works, from a recovered assortment of some 130 illustrations he accomplished whereas imprisoned by the U.S. authorities, which are on show within the Morikami’s highly effective new exhibition “Witness to Wartime,” Fujii noticed himself as one thing of an goal reporter or historian, providing a literary in addition to a visible chronicle—the watercolors had been discovered amid a 400-page diary from his time as an incarcerated citizen—from a shameful interval in American historical past.

And certainly, it’s the generic blandness that will get to you essentially the most. Finishing his scenes on surfaces typically no bigger than a postcard, the artist (Fujii created loads of laudable and jury-selected work, in numerous stylistic traditions, each earlier than and after the conflict) captured the Payallup Meeting Middle (its Orwellian identify on the time was “Camp Concord”) and the Minidoka Warfare Relocation Middle from each doable vantage level. He was like a surveyor of the land in all its indistinguishable, utilitarian particulars: dust pathways, squat buildings, barbwire fencing, laundry hanging on a clothesline. Arms-wielding guards seem in a single picture, however by and enormous, this hardly appears the stuff of nightmares. A few of Fujii’s scenes, liberated from their context, may move for rustic pastorals, just like the aptly titled “Feeding the Hogs.” And the medium of watercolor, by its very nature, softens any topic it touches.


All of this appears very a lot the purpose of all of it: This wasn’t Auschwitz or Dachau however an American type of incarceration camp, the place the prisoners can sometimes be seen at relaxation, and even having fun with themselves in a rice-pounding ceremony. It’s not troublesome to conjure some propagandist on some state-media outlet in Nineteen Forties America discovering sufficient selective proof in Fujii’s trove of goal information to whitewash your entire imprisonment of lots of of hundreds of Americans as a trip from their regular lives, purchased and paid for by Uncle Sam. In some work, Fujii exhibits himself being handled for snakebites and tick-born sickness by the medical workers. “Look, America—we even gave them free well being care!”

They’d need to ignore, in fact, the silent menace percolating just under the floor of Fujii’s watercolors and illustrations, which sometimes bubbles to the highest. “Gravestones,” as an illustration, presents a number of of the swiftly constructed headstones for a number of the “relocated” who died on the camps.

Whereas Fujii outlived the ordeal, “Witness to Wartime” suggests a person ceaselessly modified. In a self-portrait he painted previous to his incarceration, his eyebrows arch upward in curious contentment. In an identical portray following his internment, his face seems fully ashen—a haunting picture of a haunted determine. Fujii’s work would take an ominous summary tenor whereas dwelling in Chicago after the conflict, nearly like Rorschach mysteries in austere black and white, a far cry from his work of dams and bridges and people who predated his internment.

There’s a dogged survivalism on the coronary heart of Fujii’s mission, and by extension this indispensable exhibition. It’s straightforward to think about that, in preserving a historic and visible report of this time of racism and paranoia run amok in the USA, Fujii maintained his sanity in addition to his command of line and kind and shadow: An artist will all the time be an artist, even in essentially the most inhospitable situations. And within the course of, he helped present the remainder of us that Hannah Arendt’s well-known thesis from her reporting on the Adolph Eichmann trial holds within the land of the free as effectively. “Witness to Wartime” is nothing if not an expression of the banality of evil.

“Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii” runs by Oct. 6 at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Highway, Delray Seaside. Admission prices $9 to $15. Name 561/495-0233 or go to

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