SAN FRANCISCO — The National Japanese American Historical Society is hosting “The Art of Injustice: 1945 Photographs of Rohwer Japanese American Internment Camp by Paul Faris” through Jan. 4 at the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, 640 Old Mason St. in the Presidio of San Francisco.
The exhibit not only features rare photographs but also focuses on the very real people within the frames and what became of them in the postwar years. This represents the first step in bringing the collection to the West Coast.
The exhibit is the work of Professor Sarah Wilkerson Freeman of Arkansas State University, who was contacted by a brother and sister whose deceased parents, Paul and Ann Faris, initially visited the Rohwer camp in Arkansas in July 1945 and returned to document the closing of the camp that fall.
Paul Faris photographed the artwork for possible publication in “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps” by Allen H. Eaton. The Farises visited with many artists and their families. Henry Sugimoto, trained at the California College of the Arts (formerly California School of Arts and Crafts), served as host and guide.
Another CSA artist, Sadayuki Uno, invited Faris to photograph him at work in his studio/barrack. Faris also photographed interiors, outdoor spaces, and the cemetery, which featured a monument honoring the Japanese American soldiers who joined the Army, left Rohwer, and died fighting in World War II.
Ann Faris interviewed dozens of the internees, many originally from Stockton, Oakland, and San Francisco, and spent decades trying to keep in touch with those she met in the camp.
Many of the photographs were on display during “Return and Remembrance: The Legacy of Veterans of World War II,” the first-year anniversary celebration of the MIS Historic Learning Center. The exhibit will continue to be on display from 12 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $10 general, free for NJAHS members, veterans, and children 12 and under. For more information, visit www.njahs.org/640.
Additional photographs will be on display at the NJAHS Peace Gallery in Japantown starting in January.
Located in southeast Arkansas, the War Relocation Authority’s Rohwer camp housed more than 8,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent as a result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on Feb. 19, 1942. Rohwer was one of two “relocation centers” in the isolated swamplands of Arkansas (the other was Jerome), the only ones situated in the Jim Crow South.
By July 1945, the war with Japan was drawing to a close. Within weeks of the Farises’ visit, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Few could have anticipated such a world-changing event. Unwittingly, Paul Faris captured a moment of pre-Atomic Age innocence.
“By bringing the photos to light, those involved in the project hope to preserve something of the visual evidence of the unconstitutional treatment of Japanese Americans while demythologizing the camp experience,” explained Freeman. “There is a lot of misinformation about the relocation experience. A great deal of collective effort is being directed by Japanese Americans and others towards ensuring that the histories of those whose lives were so painfully disrupted will be preserved for future generations to study. This collection adds another perspective to the history of internment.”
Freeman will be conducting interviews with those who spent time in the Arkansas camps to add more voices and documentary-quality materials to future exhibitions.
NJAHS is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the collection, preservation, authentic interpretation, and sharing of historical information of the Japanese American experience for the diverse broader national and global community. Through exhibitions, public programs, publications, workshops, it reaches its various audiences at its dual sites: S.F. headquarters, 1684 Post St., and the MIS Historic Learning Center. For more information, visit www.njahs.org or call (415) 921-5007.