In 1941, over 100,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were forced from their homes into camps located in desolate inland areas of the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their crime? They looked like the enemy.
Bringing only what they could carry, the detainees made the bleak camps ‘home’ by gathering scrap materials to build furniture and tools and, later, for remarkable arts and crafts. In the worst possible circumstances, the response of this quietly courageous people was to rise above it and create truly beautiful things.
What makes this story so incredible is that there were few professional artists in the camps. Most of the detainees had not created arts or crafts before their internment—and they never would again. Upon release, they went back to being fishermen, doctors, shop-owners, and farmers.
The explosion of creativity that resulted during this dark chapter in American history is now called the art of gaman, a Japanese word that means to bear the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience. In January of this year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosted an exhibition honoring both art and artists called The Art of Gaman.
It makes me wonder: Does the ability to create beautiful things exist in all of us? What do I have inside of me? Is my response to adverse and painful conditions to cope with courage and creativity? That’s a question worth pondering.