An artistic look at a troubled history
Local artist Judy Shintani considers the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II in a powerful art installation. Photo courtesy Judy Shintani 

Art has always been a form of personal expression, but Judy Shintani’s latest project cuts exceptionally deep.

Her solo show, titled “Art of Resilience and Identity — Installations and Sculpture,” is on display at the Peninsula Museum of Art and coincides with Asia Week San Francisco.

“The show is about the Japanese-American incarceration,” said Shintani. “When President (Franklin) Roosevelt ordered everyone of Japanese descent off the Pacific coastside and moved them into incarceration camps.”

For Shintani, the event is more than just a milestone in America’s sometimes-storied history. It was an occurrence that shaped Shintani’s personal story. Her father’s family lost their oyster farming business when they were taken to Tule Lake incarceration camp in the 1940s.

One of the pieces in the show, titled, “Innocent Dreamer,” reflects on how it might have felt to be a child living at that point in time. It is a life-sized sketch of a sleeping child drawn across the surface of a straw mattress.

Shintani says the piece is titled “Innocent Dreamer” because the child has done nothing to warrant being placed in the incarceration camp.

“I made the piece to represent the families and the children that were moved into the Tanforan racetrack horse stall,” said Shintani. “There were approximately 7,800 people living in the horse stall for about eight months before they were moved to other or ‘better’ facilities. While living there, they had to make their own straw beds.

“I had a really interesting experience when I was making that piece,” she continued. “When I was stuffing the mattress with straw, I felt like I was actually there. I felt like a young woman making her own mattress, the feeling that came to me was, ‘Why am I here?’”

Shintani chose a young girl for the drawing because she found it interesting that the government at the time thought that these young families and grandparents were a potential threat.

Other pieces in the show involve capturing the stories of people who lived during that time. Shintani’s work brings to light memories, repressed emotions and current feelings about this period in U.S. history. Her unique sculptural pieces include reclaimed wood and barbed wire, illuminated lanterns, deconstructed kimonos and more.

“The show is a healing. It’s educational, it builds awareness and creates empathy,” she said. “Even though this happened 75 years ago, it is pertinent to today’s discrimination and anger about what do we do with all these people, how do we react to them.”

“Art of Resilience and Identity — Installations and Sculpture” by Judy Shintani can be seen from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday at the Peninsula Museum of Art, 1777 California Drive in Burlingame.

Admission is free. The exhibit runs through Oct. 30. A reception is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. Shintani will also be participating in a special artists panel as part of Asia Week San Francisco at 2 p.m. on Oct. 2.

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