Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wendy Maruyama: Executive Order 9066 - Artist Talk & Exhibit @ SAC

If you don't know about the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, you may find my introductory post helpful.

This post is way overdue. There's still time to see the exhibit. It closes 11/3/12.

On Saturday, September 22nd,  I attended Wendy Maruyama's artist talk about her work on Executive Order 9066, an exhibit currently on display at The Society of Arts & Crafts Gallery on the second floor at 175 Newbury St., Boston, MA. The exhibit is free and worth checking out. It's small, but very powerful. It's unusual to have this kind of exhibit in New England. I don't know if we've ever had an exhibit about the Japanese American incarceration in Boston before. This is the first one I've ever heard of. Wendy attended BU, so she said that in a way this was like coming home for her.

Wendy's talk and exhibit dovetailed nicely with the talk I went to on Friday - Professor Eric Muller spoke at UMass Boston about his book, Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in WWII.

Wendy's talk covered her earlier work when she was studying furniture-making, and the work she created after she was done with school, a brief explanation of the Japanese American incarceration and her family's experience, and how she came to recreate the 120,000 tags that were issued to Japanese and Japanese Americans when they were shipped off to the camps. Wendy has a great sense of humor which sometimes shows up in her work (a chair inspired by Mickey Mousea cabinet featuring Godzilla, and a tea house featuring Hello Kitty sliding doors). Interspersed between the serious subject matter she showed us pictures of her dogs and cats. 

Wendy is a sansei and like most Japanese Americans, her family didn't talk about their camp experience. Most of what she learned about the incarceration she discovered when she was doing research for E.O. 9066. At the end of her talk she showed us this fantastic video by Xavier Vasquez of Studio 6608 documenting the making of The Tag Project.

After the talk we walked over to the SAC Gallery to check out the exhibit. The exhibit is comprised of 3 elements - one of the ten groupings of tags from The Tag Project, Wendy's E.O. 9066 pieces, and artifacts from camps on loan from The Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego's collection. The artifacts include art created by internees, including paper flowers which they made because flowers couldn't grow in their desert location, and a pile of luggage.

I really don't have the words to explain how powerful it is to see just one of the ten groupings of tags. I wish I could have seen all 10 together. Wendy described them as ghostly figures that rustled when people walked past them. Very appropriate since she intended for them to represent the spirits of all those who were incarcerated.

Tag 03565 - Mochizuki, Atsuko
The Tag Project was originally exhibited at the San Diego State University University Art Gallery. It took Wendy and her many volunteers, two years to complete The Tag Project. They painstakingly recreated each tag using the list Wendy got from the National Archives, custom made tags, stamps, red ink, pens, and tea & coffee (for aging).

The groupings are hung so that they can rotate (see right). Wendy also collaborated with the Purple Moon Dance Project who performed a piece titled When Dreams Are Interrupted--San Diego at SDSU (see other videos of previous iterations of When Dreams Are Interrupted. Jill Togawa talks about the piece in the second video.) You can see the eerie movement of the tag groupings in the video. 

Boston is only the first stop for Wendy's exhibit. It will travel to Arkansas, Arizona, and California over the next three years. Executive Order 9066 closes on Saturday, November 3, 2012.

More photos from Wendy's talk and the exhibit.


  1. That's my mom's tag!! Atsuko (Mochizuki) Takeuchi. She remembers her tag #. What a coincidence! She's alive and well in Los Angeles, CA.

    1. Oh wow!! Glad to hear your mom is alive and well! :) I remember staring at all those tags wondering what happened to all the people they represented. Thanks for commenting! Did you come across my blog in a web search?