CODY, Wyo. —Opening of a Muslim photo exhibit July 18 at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center (ILC) has sparked controversy among area residents, some of whom feel that the exhibit “does not belong” at the center, which was completed last year to preserve the World War II Japanese American experience.
Heart Mountain was the location of one of 10 War Relocation Authority camps built following the forced removal of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The new exhibit is composed of self-portraits of Muslim Americans in everyday life and is featured in the ILC’s Ford Foundation Special Exhibition Area.
Leslie Maslak of Cody, upon learning of plans to present the exhibit at the ILC, expressed her disagreement in The Billings Gazette, stating: “What in the world does a Muslim exhibit have to do with the Japanese Americans’ internment? It has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the internment or World War II for that matter.”
Maslak went on to ask, “Is this a ‘comparison’ to how we mistreat the ‘peace-loving’ Muslims? Whatever the reason, this exhibit does not belong at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp.”
Another newspaper, The Powell Tribune, began conducting a real-time poll among its readers on July 19, posing the question: Do you agree with the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center’s decision to host an exhibit featuring Muslim portraits? Poll results posted online as of July 23 reveal that 371 responders, or 59.7 percent, voted in favor of the exhibit, while 251, or 40.3 percent, are opposed.
Shirley Ann Higuchi, chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board of directors, in announcing the exhibit on the foundation’s website, said, “This exhibit takes a thoughtful look at the diversity and challenges of real Muslim Americans today, and we hope it will prompt visitors to reflect on possible parallels between perceptions of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor then and Muslim Americans now.”
“One of the goals of Heart Mountain is to encourage our visitors to learn from history so that we can avoid repeating past mistakes,” said Higuchi.
The exhibit was created by Todd Drake, an artist-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Global Initiatives. Eric Muller, professor of law from the University of North Carolina and chair of the Heart Mountain program committee, helped bring the exhibit to the ILC.