The Japanese American National Museum will present the national tour of
“Pictures of Belonging: Miki Hayakawa, Hisako Hibi, and Miné Okubo,” traveling to four venues across the U.S. before its final stop at JANM in late 2026.
Curated by Dr. ShiPu Wang, the Coats Family Chair in the Arts and professor of art history at UC Merced and commissioner of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition reveals a broader picture of the American experience by presenting artworks and life stories of three trailblazing Japanese American women of the pre-World War II generation that will be in dialogue with each other for the first time.
With 70 paintings and drawings as well as four sketchbooks by Hayakawa, Hibi, and Okubo, the exhibition spans eight decades and reveals both the range and depth of these artists’ oeuvres and connections that have not been explored previously.
“By showing never-before-seen artworks from these female artists, ‘Pictures of Belonging’ encourages visitors to focus their attention on these and other diverse artists who blazed the trail at a time when female artists of color were afforded few opportunities,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM.
The exhibition will debut at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City in February 2024 and travel to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Monterey Museum of Art, California; and JANM.
An accompanying catalog co-published by JANM and the University of California Press will include more than 150 images in color and black and white, along with essays by Wang; Becky Alexander, archivist at the San Francisco Art Institute Legacy Foundation + Archive; Melissa Ho, curator of 20th-century art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Rihoko Ueno, archivist at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; Patricia Wakida, associate editor of the Densho Encyclopedia project and a contributing editor to the Discover Nikkei website; and Cécile Whiting, professor emerita and chancellor’s professor of art history at UC Irvine.
On Sunday, Nov. 26, JANM will launch the catalog with the public program “JANM Book Club: Pictures of Belonging with ShiPu Wang” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Tickets to this program include same-day admission to the museum. General tickets are $16, tickets for students and seniors are $9, and tickets for JANM members are free. To RSVP, go to: www.janm.org/events/2023-11-26/janm-book-club-pictures-belonging-shipu-wang
Hayakawa, Hibi, and Okubo were the three most visible and critically acclaimed Japanese American female artists of the pre-World War II generations in the San Francisco Bay Area and the entire U.S. All three artists pursued their training in California, consistently showed works, and received honors in juried exhibitions by the San Francisco Art Association, the Oakland Art Gallery, and other artist collectives throughout California. All three shared the distinction of being the only female Japanese American artists to represent the U.S. in the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-1940.
During World War II all three women were forced from their homes in California. Hibi and Okubo were imprisoned at the Tanforan temporary detention center in the Bay Area and the Topaz incarceration camp in Utah; Hayakawa relocated to New Mexico. Yet all of them were committed to leveraging art as a productive means of storytelling and engaging with diverse communities.
By highlighting the artists’ distinctive styles, “Pictures of Belonging” asks viewers critical questions such as: What does American art and being American mean in specific historical moments? How and why do existing accounts render women artists of color as peripheral or even invisible? What can we do to encourage a more inclusive, expanded, and nuanced understanding of American art and cultural history?
By traveling the exhibition to locations that are connected with the artists’ histories — such as Utah, where Hibi and Okubo were incarcerated, and California, where all three artists regularly exhibited in the prewar period — “Pictures of Belonging” leverages the power of place to create public programming opportunities tailored to local residents and histories.
“Pictures of Belonging broadens the existing, almost exclusive spotlight on Japanese Americans’ wartime trauma toward illuminating what ‘American experience’ looks like through these artists’ work made before, during, and after the war,” said Dr. Wang. “It explores the myriad ways in which art for these artists served as a vital means to capture lived experiences, navigate through good times and bad, and build relationships in diverse communities, from San Francisco to Santa Fe to New York City. The exhibition asks visitors to consider how art-making enabled diasporic artists to ‘take up space’ (to use its positive connotation), to make their presence and existence visible, and to assert that they belonged.”
The touring schedule for the exhibition (dates subject to change) is:
Feb. 24 – June 30, 2024, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City
Nov. 15, 2024 – Aug. 17, 2025, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Oct. 2, 2025 – Jan. 4, 2026, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Feb. 5, 2026 – April 19, 2026, Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey, Calif.
Late 2026 (subject to change), JANM
Many of these never-before-seen-by-the-public artworks are drawn from artist estates like the Hisako and Matsusaburo George Hibi estate and the Miné Okubo estate; numerous private collections including Richard Sakai’s Asian American art collection; and institutions such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Oakland Museum of California.
JANM is working with community organizations like the Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties of the Riverside Community College District and the Hayward Area Historical Society to share these artworks with a wider audience.
This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. In addition, this project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.