Reflections in the era of ‘Covid normal’: Revisiting art and craftworks produced in internment camps by Japanese people during WWII

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Tets Kimura, Flinders University
Assoc Prof Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury

Session Moderators

Dr Tets Kimura, Flinders University
Assoc Prof Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury

Session Speakers

Dr Tets Kimura, Flinders University
Assoc Prof Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury

When Japan joined WWII in 1941, it immediately impacted on innocent civilians of Japanese ancestry living in allied countries. 120,000 people in North America, 1800 in South America, 5000 in British territories of Asia (e.g., India, Malaysia and Singapore), 1141 in Australia, and 3160 in the Pacific were sent to internment camps, caught up in a situation outside their control. This historical case helps us to reflect upon experiences of the current Covid generation. In the 1940s, the feelings and attitudes of the Japanese people imprisoned in internment camps are reflected in the art and craftworks they made, notably their lives of 'gaman', that can be translated as ‘enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity’ (Hirasuna, 2005). Aligned with the international symposium ‘The art and creativity of Japanese people incarcerated in World War II in Australasia and the Pacific’ to be held at Flinders University, funded by the Toshiba International Foundation, this round table discussion panel will address creative expression in unexpected and tragic circumstances, how the trauma, strains and indignities are preserved in art and craft works, and how today’s creativity will ‘speak’ after decades or centuries, to act as evidence of the Covid tragedy.

PAPER #1
Cooperation at the Featherston camp: the collaborative operation of making art

PRESENTER
Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury

The Japanese POWs held at Featherston during the Second World War crafted artworks using a variety of media, including timber, pāua shell, silver wire, paper and colours. Materials came from a surprisingly wide range of sources, such as the camp furniture factory, local farmers, the International Red Cross, as well as a number of New Zealand branches, and the New Zealand No More War Movement. A formalised process for trading the products was also established, whereby items were independently valued, displayed and sold, with the proceeds credited to the POW’s pay ledger, allowing him to buy goods in the camp shop. Therefore, the success of the operation – and measured by the number of items which have survived, it was remarkably successful – relied on the collaboration of a number of players. This paper examines those who acted in the exercise of making and trading artworks in the camp, and the role art played for the imprisoned men.

PAPER #2
Interning the wrong enemy: the Japanese-Australian history during WWII

PRESENTER
Tets Kimura, Flinders University

Since Japanese people began arriving in Australia in the late 19th century, they have been treated as “others,” particularly during the period of the Second World War. Some 97 percent of civilians with a Japanese background living in Australia, including those who were born in Australia, were interned, and the vast majority of them were shipped to Japan after the war, even though they had no immediate connection to Japan. Through studying art and craft works made by the interned civilian Japanese, complex emotions, detached from Japan, expressed in various media including paintings, jewellery, model ships and carved objects, can be discerned. By combining observations on Japanese war art and archival research, this paper argues that some of these “Japanese” who were thought to be “others” were, in fact, Australians, with strong loyalty to Australia.

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Biographies

Dr Tets Kimura, Flinders University

Dr Tets Kimura is Research Associate in the Creative Arts at Flinders University. He completed his doctoral thesis 'Contemporary Japanese Fashion as a Vehicle of Soft Power: A Case Study of Cool Japan in Australia' in 2019. Developing ideas from a chapter of his thesis, his first book (an edited collection for which he acted as the project leader), 'Exporting Japanese Aesthetics' (Sussex Academic Press), was published in June 2020 and launched at the Art Gallery of South Australia in July 2021. Combining his academic interest and heritage background, he is now working on the space of Japanese cultural history.


Assoc Prof Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury

Richard Bullen is an Associate Professor of art history at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His principal areas of research are Japanese art and aesthetics related to the tea ceremony, and East Asian art collections in New Zealand. He was a 2019 CAA-Getty International Scholar, and in the same year with James Beattie and Maria Galikowski co-edited 'China in Australasia: cultural diplomacy and Chinese arts since the Cold War', published by Routledge. He is a Research Fellow at Canterbury Museum, and Honorary Curator of Asian Collections at MTG Hawke's Bay.