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Judy Shintani Brings to Springfield a Look at the Past to Bring Change to the Future

Daniel Priest

On Wednesday night Springfield College hosted artist Judy Shintani for a presentation of her artwork. The display honors the Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during World War II, and the relationship that the artwork shares in the world today. Her work can be viewed in the William Blizard Art Gallery in the Visual Arts Center on the second floor of Blake Hall.

The presentation focused on the idea of “Bring to Light” which means creating a way to tell the untold struggles of the Japanese-American incarceration and how those affected feel all this time later.

Shintani has various works of art that honored the 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated. She gave a detailed presentation on how innocent people were unfairly uprooted from their homes and moved into camps. Much of her work includes powerful quotes on the treatment the Japanese-Americans suffered in World War II and how those issues are still around today.

Shintani discussed when she held a healing process on the West Coast to help those who were affected by the camps. The process included a storytelling period as well as a walking meditation and re-creation of the walks to the camps.

The presentation had a very warm feel to it. Shintani’s work has a very calming sense to it and her control of the audience and genuineness throughout the entire presentation was very moving. Her passion for this event and advocating change and improvement in the modern day was very apparent.

Shintani has a close connection with incarceration as her father was one of those affected. He worked in Washington, raising oysters and had a very well regarded and successful business until he was uprooted and forced into the Tule Lake camp. His family’s oyster business was near the submarines so the U.S. feared he knew inside information.

In her presentation, Shintani noted how Tule Lake was regarded as one of the worst camps because the “trouble makers” were put there. Those were the people who fought the incarceration.

Shintani said, “My father spent his teenage years there and he ended up not being able to graduate from high school because he left before he finished and my family never went back to where they lived before because their business was no longer viable.”

This is just one of many cases of Japanese-Americans who lost everything and had their livelihoods destroyed back in the time of war. Shintani’s artwork started as a means of figuring out her own thoughts and it now has transitioned to helping those affected share their stories and heal.

“I started doing it to understand how did I think about [the incarceration] and how did I feel about it myself and there’s a lot of work about that, but some of the work I interviewed people or they sent me memories that I’ve embedded in some of the [art],” stated Shintani.

The issue of the incarceration is a major historical event but it is not always talked about as much as it could or should be. Shintani said, “I did an online survey of people that are descendants of the people that were in the camps and I had 200 responses and I pulled some of them out to work with. So, that was interesting because I didn’t know in a collective way what people were thinking that were descendants like myself.”

Shintani has helped to shed light on the past and give those affected a window to express themselves about the events. Through her work Shintani can recall an instance where she opened the door for a family to open up to each other about the past.

One work of art is a remembrance shrine that includes personal stories from those held in camps. Shintani recalled, “This woman asked her mother to participate and so she told all these stories and the woman told me she’d never heard those stories in her life.”

Therein lies the power of Shintani’s art work. It provides a way for people to express the social injustices of the past and then relate those issues to our world today. With the problems still prevalent in our country, specifically with incidents such as Charlottesville or the anti-immigrant policies that have been put into place, it is clear there are still problems with equality and acceptance.

Shintani dedicated an entire part of her presentation to the issues of discrimination in the world today. She specifically mentioned the South Texas Family Residential Center where children are imprisoned and treated like slaves as well as the Muslim ban.

Springfield College’s Gallery Director Holly Murray was impacted by Shintani’s art immediately and saw the underlying message, “I chose this show because I thought it spoke to a wider issue at hand in our world. Which is we are all from somewhere else and when we come into new environments we are discriminated against. It’s almost like human nature to do that.”

There has not been a ton of progress in the world today when striving towards equality and social justice. Shintani echoed the sentiment of Murray, “ I think there are a lot of things that parallel what’s going on in the world right now. It is fairly shocking that so much of what my family experienced is coming around again now.”

Justine Dymond, a professor of English at Springfield College, shared a similar view on how the art parallels our world today, “I’ve taught about Japanese-American incarceration for a couple decades now and there are only two times in those two decades where I just felt the urgency was so heightened and that there was such a need for people to know the history and understand the actual individual experiences that people went through. The first time was right after 9/11 and now is the second time.”

For whatever reason the stigma in America of judging people based on race, appearance, or where they come from has not been broken. Shintani said, “I think it’s important to remember history and to keep it alive so that people can change it or relate it to what’s happening now.”

Dymond added, “If we don’t understand how these things happen then how do we prevent it from happening again?”

Shintani certainly had a profound impact and changed the perspective of some people who were in attendance.

Freshman Ryan McCormack said of the presentation, “The most powerful thing was how relevant it was to today. A lot of people are controlled by fear and a lot of our society is moving backwards in a sense and letting fear of the unknown and fear of diversity dictate the way we are treating minority groups and immigrants in the United States. I was looking at it less in a historical perspective and more like today.”

Moving forward Shintani and others like her who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in can keep opening the eyes of people around the world. We need more positivity and acceptance rather than all of the hate that has been thrown around in recent history.

Holly Murray put it best: “Even though this is Japanese specific I think it speaks to the broader issue of all immigration and immigrants that are passing through this world.”

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