From left: Na Omi Judy Shintani, Reiko Fujii, Ellen Bepp, Shari Ari Deboer, and Kathy Fujii-Oka. (Photo by Bob Hsiang)

SAN FRANCISCO — Honoring the history about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II provides an opportunity to understand the terrible injustices that took place. A new art exhibition called “Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey: From Remembrance to Resistance” is on display from July 24 through Sept. 3 at the AZ Gallery at the Shops at Tanforan, San Bruno.

Most significant is the fact that the AZ Gallery is on the land where the former Tanforan Racetrack and Tanforan Assembly Center stood.

“Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey” features the work of five noted third-generation (Sansei) Japanese American artists who have dedicated their wide-ranging art careers to honor the legacy of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The participating artists are Shari Arai DeBoer, Ellen Bepp, Reiko Fujii, Kathy Fujii-Oka, and Na Omi Judy Shintani. On display are impressive works of art, including video, installation works, prints, paintings, and mixed media pieces.

Eighty years ago (Feb. 19, 1942), President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which unjustly ordered the forcible removal of Japanese Americans from their homes and incarceration in American concentration camps. As descendants, the five artists share a unique vision that, through art, brings to life the dehumanizing conditions in which Japanese Americans were forced to live, including poor housing and food, a lack of privacy, and inadequate medical care. 

“The injustice of our government incarcerating innocent men, women, and children based on greed, fear, and racial prejudice, resulting in the loss of life, homes, businesses, trust, and self-esteem, is deplorable,” says Fujii. “I am adamant about chronicling their stories so that they are a recorded part of American history and that these people’s experiences are not forgotten.”

A main feature of the exhibition will be the Sunday, Aug. 14, screening of the film “Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey” (2020, 27 minutes), which documents the five artists’ experiences on an annual pilgrimage in 2018 to the Manzanar camp site. This film was produced and directed by DeBoer, Bepp, Fujii, Fujii-Oka, and Shintani and includes archival photos from families and the Densho Encyclopedia. A facilitated discussion follows the film screening.

Did you know?

• In 1942, the Tanforan Racetrack was transformed into the Tanforan Assembly Center.

• Nearly 8,000 people, mostly Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area, were imprisoned at Tanforan from April 28 to Oct. 13, 1942, a total of 171 days.

• About half of the detainees lived in former horse stalls.

• Most of those incarcerated were transferred to the Central Utah WRA camp, also known as Topaz.

To further deepen the public’s understanding of this forced incarceration, the exhibition coincides with this year’s unveiling of the “Tanforan Memorial,” located between the San Bruno BART Station and the Tanforan shopping mall, and the updated permanent exhibition “Tanforan Incarceration 1942,” which is within the San Bruno BART Station. Some of the scheduled programs will present personal stories about the Tanforan incarceration experience.

“The core of my art is about searching, understanding, and healing — things you can’t get from a textbook,” says Shintani.

The aim of this exhibition and educational programming is to inspire dialogue about racial discrimination, identity and civil liberties, trauma experienced by those rounded up and incarcerated, and more.

“People who are different are not necessarily dangerous, even if they ‘resemble’ the enemy in some way,” Shintani says. “Learning from the past can lead to the equitable and humane treatment of all people.”

Location: AZ Gallery, The Shops at Tanforan, 1150 El Camino Real, Suite 254, San Bruno, CA 94066

Dates: Sunday, July 24, through Saturday, Sept. 3

Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: No charge

Info: SanseiGranddaughters@gmail.com

Upcoming Free Programs

Opening Reception: Saturday, July 30, from 12:30-3 p.m. With the artists and taiko performance by Naoko Amemiya and Lori Honjiyo.

“Shining a Light on Remembrance” Lantern-Making Workshop: Sunday, Aug. 7, from 1-4:30 p.m. Facilitated by Na Omi Judy Shintani. Twelve attendees will create lanterns to honor and celebrate their loved ones and those who inspire them. Registration required. Go to: www.sanseigranddaughters.com

“Topaz Stories: Preserving stories of the Japanese American Incarceration,” Saturday, Aug. 13, from 1-2:30 p.m. Facilitated by Topaz Stories Project editor Ruth Sasaki. Five local authors will share writings about Tanforan followed by Q&A panel discussion.

“Sansei Granddaughters’ Journey” Film Showing and Artist Conversation: Sunday, Aug. 14, from 1-2 p.m. Screening of the film followed by Q&A with the five artists. This film was presented at the 2022 Films of Remembrance in San Francisco, the 2021 DisOrient Film Festival in Eugene, Ore., and others.

“Remnants of Tanforan Incarceration”: Saturday, Aug. 20, from 1-2:30 p.m. Taiko performance by Naoko Amemiya and Lori Honjiyo. Slideshow: Tanforan artifact display, and talk by Nancy Ukai, project director of “50 Objects.”

Flowering Cherry Blossom Workshop: Sunday, Aug. 21, from 1-3 p.m. Facilitated by Kathy Fujii-Oka. Twelve attendees will create textile cherry blossom flowers using personal photos of their loved ones. Registration required. Go to: www.sanseigranddaughters.com

Tsuru for Solidarity Art and Social Justice Talk, Film Screening, and Panel: Sunday, Aug. 28, from 1-2:30 p.m. Screenings of “Flying Cranes” (2:09 min) and “Tsuru History” (15:31 min), introduced by award-winning producer/director Emiko Omori. Members of the Tsuru for Solidarity group will share their stories and display their large-scale origami creations with messages of hope and support. Hands-on origami art-making activity.

Artist-Led Tours: Sunday, Aug. 7, from 11-11:30 a.m.; Saturday, Aug. 13, from 12-12:30 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 21, from 3:30-4 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 28, from 1-1:30 p,m.; and Saturday, Sept. 3, from 1-1:30 p.m.

For updates about all programming, visit: www.sanseigranddaughters.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Sanseigranddaughters

Instagram: sansei_granddaughters

Email: SanseiGranddaughters@gmail.com

AZ Gallery: https://www.facebook.com/AZ-Gallery-100814942461843

Support provided by Dragonfly Community Arts with additional support from the AZ Gallery and the Asian American Women Artists Association.

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