Postcards From the Edges of War

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From Sakoguchi’s “Postcards from Camp," circa 2000.

At the Cardwell Jimmerson gallery, the history of the Japanese American incarceration is displayed on one colorful wall: four years and their aftermath condensed into a space smaller than a pair of ping pong tables.

In a set of 40 saturated, acrylic paintings, Ben Sakoguchi takes the camp experience and makes it fresh again, combining striking but unsentimental images with brief descriptions or quotes of the time.

The power of “Postcards from Camp” lies in its juxtaposition, a product of the artist’s sensitivity and dark wit. In one frame, grinning children stand on a wooden stage in colonial wigs and uniforms holding up an American flag, presumably putting on a school play. A row of barracks is visible behind them, and, above them, a quote from the May 10, 1943 issue of The Los Angeles Examiner, “Treachery, loyalty to emperor inherent Japanese traits.”

Nose Art: Love 'em and Leave 'em, 1982.

Though Sakoguchi’s work is full of irony, it’s textured beyond simple bitterness. Instead, “Postcards” reads like a lament of the misguided, hateful sentiments of 1940s America, a time when children were forced to wear numbered ID tags on their wrists like packages and when The Los Angeles Times compared people of Japanese ancestry to vipers, “nonetheless [vipers]wherever the egg is hatched.”

“Postcards” is being displayed as part of a mini Sakoguchi retrospective, which includes other such pieces as a collection of warplane nose art, and orange crate-style scenes of slavery and baseball. With bold color, humor, and pain, these works refuse to be forgotten.

“Ben Sakoguchi: Paintings 1966 to Present” runs through April 21 at Cardwell Jimmerson Contemprary Art, 8568 Washington Blvd. in Culver City. (310) 815-1100.

-MIA NAKAJI MONNIER

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