Morikami Museum exhibitions focus on ‘invisible incarcerees’


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Phillip Valys Reporter

Massive pillars of crumpled, yellowed, ink-faded paper ID tags suspend from the ceiling in Wendy Maruyama’s room-filling installation at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. There are 120,000 handwritten tags, all bearing the names of Japanese-Americans evicted from their homes, rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps during World War II for the crime of being of Japanese descent.

Maruyama, a furnituremaker and third-generation Japanese-American, started the “Tag Project” in 2008 out of “ignorance” of her ancestors’ history, at first intending to re-create the tags of 1,100 residents of Chula Vista, Calif., her hometown. That number swelled to 120,000, spanning 10 columns of tags, here displayed as part of Maruyama’s “Executive Order 9066,” opening Friday, Oct. 9, at the Morikami.

“I like to refer to these families as the ‘invisible incarcerees,’ in that so few people know their stories,” Maruyama, also a San Diego State University art professor, says via email. “They were torn away from their friends and communities and thrust into very paranoid environments.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, scattered busloads of detainees across 10 camps, which consisted of long, squat wooden barracks quarantined with barbed-wire fences and a phalanx of guards. Maruyama says her grandfather Tokutaro Furukawa avoided the camps, fleeing California with his wife, Fuku, for Colorado.

Her research uncovered many photographs of less-fortunate Japanese-Americans. One image of a family wearing ID tags, shot by famed photojournalist Dorothea Lange, appears in the exhibit’s entrance. Other galleries carry Maruyama’s furniture installations, including “Poston,” a rectangular cabinet built with tarpaper, pine and barbed wire, suggests materials found at internment sites such as the Poston camp in Arizona. Nearby are two wood paintings by Poston internee Kakunen Tsuruoka, “Redwood Slat With Water Tower and Buildings,” which depict camp barracks at dusk. An info card suggests the artwork was made as a “means to cope with boredom, fear, anxiety and heartbreak from the displacement they endured.”

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“I look forward to a time when I can just go back to making a plain ol’ table,” Maruyama says. “Some of this advocacy work I’m doing can be very heavy and weighty. I feel like I must help get the word out.”

Visions of life and loss within internment camps can be found in a companion exhibit of 30 drawings and paintings by Japanese-American Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, who died in 2012 at age 92. The Sacramento-born, Hiroshima-raised outsider artist was largely forgotten until New York filmmaker Linda Hattendorf discovered him in 2001, when he was living homeless in Washington Square Park.

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Her conversations with Mirikitani uncovered a lifetime of hardship, starting about age 21, when the U.S. military sent him to Tule Lake in California. “Tule Lake,” a four-image series drawn with crayon and colored pencil, depicts flat interment barracks and red sunsets in the shadow of Castle Rock Mountain. Mirikitani is the subject of the Linda Hattendorf-directed documentary “The Cats of Mirikitani,” which will screen at the Morikami Museum on Oct. 21, Nov. 18, Dec. 16 and Jan. 20.

“Art is the medium he used to reconcile his feelings about being in the camps,” Morikami curator Susanna Brooks says. “It looks serene, not angry, no regrets, which is interesting, because someone who was removed from his home by the government just because he physically looked like the enemy.”

“Wendy Maruyama: Executive Order 9066” and Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitami’s solo show will open Friday, Oct. 9, at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, in Delray Beach. Both exhibits will close Jan. 31. Admission costs $9-$15. Call 561-495-0233 or go to

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