Students Relate JA WWII Experience to Their Own History

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Rafu Staff Report

“Monuments and Memory: Reconstructing American History” will be presented by artworxLA on Wednesday, Nov. 8, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.

Shelby Williams-Gonzalez

How can art represent a collection memory? Whose story gets told, and what makes a monument valuable to a community? On the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, artworxLA students will reflect on the Japanese American incarceration during World War II and its relevance to our world today.

Inspired by Little Tokyo and JANM’s permanent collection, students will consider the power of place and how ordinary objects can tell extraordinary stories. They will also explore how materials can be architectural, digital, interactive, spoken, or performed. As witnesses to history, students will create proposals for new monuments to the stories they feel America should never forget.

Students from eight schools will present such works as a life-size barrack made out of cardboard; collage work; zines; a documentary film; spoken-word performance; chapbooks; and a re-creation of the Trail of Tears exploring the theme of displacement, relocation and remembrance.

(The Trail of Tears was a series of forced removals of Native American nations from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast to an area west of the Mississippi River. The relocations were carried out following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The relocated people suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route, and more than 4,000 died before reaching their various destinations.)

Each season, the students get an introduction to a particular issue coupled with a hands-on art-making experience.

“ArtworxLA’s goal is to re-engage the most at-risk youth from dropping out of high school by using the arts to re-inspire students to become life-long learners, create the space for their voices to be a part of city-wide conversations, and connect them to the rich resources of this city,” explained Shelby Williams-Gonzalez, development and communications director. “ArtworxLA does this through long-term arts programming/workshops in continuation high schools and juvenile halls, where we bring professional artists into their classroom as well as after-school residencies and summer scholarship opportunities at various art and design colleges.

“The public presentation on Nov. 8 is the culmination of our fall workshop season; students have spent the last 10 weeks working with teaching artists in their classrooms on the theme of ‘Monument and Memory,’ where students examined — and for many learning for the first time — Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese American internment of the 1940s.

“Students drew parallels to current times, both in the U.S. and abroad, and also looked at the ideas of displacement, discrimination and systemic oppression as it pertains to their own experience and that of their communities.”

The project is also meaningful to Williams-Gonzalez personally. “I think it is both necessary and crucial that we teach young people about the mistakes of this country’s past so that we do not repeat them,” she said. “It is an unfortunate reality that the 75th anniversary of EO 9066 comes at a time where intolerance towards immigrants is heightened and anti-Muslim rhetoric is becoming normalized, which is a sad reminder that we are not far from repeating history.

“I want our students have the power to identify systemic racism and push back; to empower our students to use their art as a tool of resistance. That’s why this theme is so important. It’s relevant to today, we have so much to learn from the past and we have so much work to do to ensure a better future — for us ALL.”

For more information on artworxLA (formerly The HeArt Project), visit www.artworxla.org.

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