Arkansas Arts Center acquires sculptures from “The Tag Project”

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The installations mark the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.

Wendy Maruyama, American (La Junta, Colorado, 1952 – ), Rohwer (The Tag Project) and Jerome (The Tag Project), 2011, tea- and coffee-stained cut paper, ink, string, thread, and metal, 144 inches x 24 inches, Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection: Gift of the artist.

The Arkansas Arts Center recently acquired Rohwer and Jerome, two sculptures from The Tag Project by Wendy Maruyama. The two large installations are now on view at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Rohwer and Jerome are two of 10 pieces originally created as part of The Tag Project, each piece representing one of the 10 Japanese American Relocations Centers where people of Japanese ancestry were held during World War II. Rohwer and Jerome were two such camps, both located in southeast Arkansas. These sculptures represent the 16,000 people held at Rohwer and Jerome between October 1942 and November 1945, 64 percent of whom were American citizens.

“The Tag Project was started in New York, while I was an artist-in-residence at SUNY-Purchase. I was inspired by the thousands of folded origami cranes I saw 12 years before at the Hiroshima Peace memorial…All Japanese Americans from the West Coast were rounded up in 1942 and each was issued a tag and an ID number designating their destination: one of several internment camps, all in desolate deserted areas of the United States…I was taken by the physical weight of these tags when they were completed and hung, despite appearing to be light and airy. This struck me as being very relevant to the way the internment was perceived by the general American public. To this day it shocks me to still run into fellow Americans who had no clue that this had happened,” Maruyama said.

For The Tag Project, Maruyama and her team methodically recreated the identification tags given to nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans using the rosters of internees housed in the archives of the War Relocation Authority. They began by stamping each tag to replicate the appearance of the original tags. They then handwrote the name of a Japanese American internee, their unique identifying number, and the name of the camp to which they were ordered to report. The team bent and folded the tags, later placing them in a bath of coffee or tea to artificially age their appearance. Once fabricated, the artist then tied the tags with red cord to a steel armature, and the whole grouping hangs from the ceiling. Each sculpture is nearly 11 feet tall and weighs more than 50 pounds. In Maruyama’s words, “each group hovers or levitates on its own. They all look like large, looming ghost-like figures and they slowly rotate or move with the slightest breeze.” Perhaps also evocative of a grove of trees or a group of people, the sculptures rustle or murmur as they rotate, returning a voice to a once voiceless populace.

“I decided to donate Rowher and Jerome to the Arkansas Arts Center because I know the institution will give this work the needed visibility with respect to the two incarceration camps in Arkansas. I find it curious that two camps were located so far from the others, and in the South, no less.  Executive Order 9066 has become a part of Arkansas history, and connected to a much larger story especially during these trying times now,” Maruyama said.

Sunday, February 19 marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor caused public panic about an invasion by the Japanese army. With the stated goal of protecting against espionage and sabotage, Executive Order 9066 allowed for military exclusion zones and the forced relocation and internment of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry by their own government between 1942 and 1946.

Rohwer and Jerome were both exhibited at the Arkansas Arts Center in 2013 as part of The Tag Project/Executive Order 9066, an exhibition organized by the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston. The exhibition explored the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II through photographs and objects alongside all 10 pieces from The Tag Project.

Installation view of The Tag Project/Executive Order 9066 at the Arkansas Arts Center in 2013.

The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies also has an exhibition related to the Rohwer and Jerome on view currently. The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas is comprised of paintings, drawings, and other works of art produced by individuals held at Rohwer and Jerome during World War II. It will be on display from January 13 through June 24, 2017, in the Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center’s Concordia Hall gallery located at 401 President Clinton Ave.

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