Roger Shimomura paints Japanese internment camps

Thursday July 4, 2013

As a young child, Roger Shimomura lived for two years, from 1942 to 1944, at Minidoka, one of 10 internment camps where the U.S. government forcibly relocated nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans in the World War II.

He has a collection of World War II artifacts from the internment camps, now in the Smithsonian with his grandmother’s diaries.

Her diaries have inspired a series of his paintings of camp life. "Minidoka on My Mind" will open at Cornell University, at the Johnson Museum of Art, on Aug. 10.

Some of these paintings show scenes of daily activity, a boy with a ball, a young man sitting on a cot with his head in his hands, a woman measuring her blood pressure.

Some have an ironic point to them.

The silhouette of a girl jumping rope, outlined against a wall in the moonlight, he has called "the shadow of the enemy."

And many chill the blood with the pressure of living under tight control.

In one wide panel, cloud formations obscure the small figures in the camp far below, in the style of Japanese screen painting -- and in the foreground, as though standing at the viewer’s side, the shadowed figure of a man holds binoculars -- manning the guard tower.

Shimomura’s grandmother wrote, in her diary, of long days wasted in pointless manual labor, and of the joyful and brief times when her family can visit her.

She and her son had to apply for passes to come to Shimomura in the containment area when he had chicken pox, and he was no more than four years old.

And yet, in 1943, she wrote with generosity: "Today marks one year since the outbreak of the war between the United States and Japan. Those of us that share the virtues of both countries pray for the earliest possible peace."


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