Window on a Nightmare

Between 1942 and 1945, 11,200 Japanese-Americans were sent to Topaz Camp. It was located in a parched stretch of desert about 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Most of the prisoners were from San Francisco. Some were forced to live in horse stalls at Tanforan Race Track before being shipped there. Two-thirds were U.S. citizens. None had been charged with a crime. Kids lucky enough to turn 17 while at Topaz were administered a two-question loyalty test, which could win them “freedom” through the draft; resistors came to be known as the “No-No Boys” and were immediately shipped to another camp. Amazingly, in the midst of this madness, an art school was born. Boasting 600 students, the school offered classes in watercolor, architectural drafting, oil painting, and anatomy, taught by 17 reputable instructors. One was professor Chiura Obata, who found his own UC Berkeley students similarly interned. Because writing and photography were forbidden, these images became the only record of camp life, and its primary pastime. “Topaz: Artists in Internment” brings these works together in a traveling show, which raises attention and, we hope, support for the future Topaz Museum. Not long ago, private donations, largely from the Bay Area, helped the museum buy land at the original site. This might cause you to wonder which of your own neighbors got locked up there.
April 28-June 24, 10 a.m., 2012

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