The Art of Gaman: Arts & Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Flowerlike brooches delicately made from tiny seashells; a large vanity table crafted from persimmon wood; intricately carved slate teapots; elegant dolls sewn from old kimono fabric. These are just some of the gorgeous arts and crafts presented in this moving, full-color volume by Hirasuna (Long May She Wave, etc.). All of them were made by Japanese-Americans confined in internment camps during WWII. "The objects that [internees] made from scrap and found materials are testaments to their perseverance, their resourcefulness, their spirit and humanity," Hirasuna writes. As such, they are "a physical manifestation of the art of gaman"—the art of "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity." Certainly, the treatment Japanese-Americans received at the hands of the U.S. government was unjustifiable. In 1942, some 120,000 of them were forced to move into shoddily constructed camps located in some of the most barren areas of the western United States. They were given only one week to settle their affairs and allowed to bring with them only what goods they could carry, with the result that predatory merchants bought most of their property for a pittance and many of the families lost their homes. Trapped in the camps with only cots for furniture, the internees began their crafts from necessity, constructing rough-hewn tables, chairs, bureaus and woodworking tools from found materials. But as their skill progressed and their confinement stretched from one year to four, they began to produce objects of startling elegance and beauty. Hirasuna's exceptional volume give fair treatment to both the depressing conditions of the camp and the ingenuity and fortitude that its residents mustered to survive it. (Nov.)
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Gaman is a Japanese word for endurance with grace and dignity in the face of what seems unbearable. Hirasuna presents a searing and soaring tribute to this human attribute in a volume of color photographs of artworks rendered from everyday objects by the 112,700 Japanese American internees held in World War II detention camps. After the post-Pearl Harbor panic that led to the rounding up of Pacific Coast Japanese American communities, FBI searches, and forced relocations, the internees felt a need to establish order and community as they were subjected to isolation and subsistence living conditions. Even in such grim circumstances, the urge to make art was a powerful one, as these arts and crafts created in the internment camps attest. Whether one considers butterflies fashioned from shells, or a surprisingly elegant chair made of scrap two-by-fours at the Tule Lake California camp, or birds carved from Arkansas cypress in Camp Rohwer, one is witnessing testimony to human character, courage, and irrepressible creativity. Whitney Scott
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