Miné Okubo

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Miné Okubo
Born Miné Okubo
(1912-06-27)June 27, 1912[1]
Riverside, California
Died February 10, 2001(2001-02-10) (aged 88)[2]
Greenwich Village, New York
Nationality Japanese American (Nisei)
Education Master of Fine Arts, University of California at Berkeley (1938);
Studied under Fernand Léger in Paris; Diego Rivera in San Francisco
Known for Drawing, Painting, Writing
Notable work(s) Isseis Lost Everything (painting, 1944);
Citizen 13660 (book, 1946, reprinted, 1973, 1983);
Mother and Cat (painting, 1949);
Numerous works in pen and ink, oil, watercolor, tempera and gouache
Awards Bertha Taussig Memorial Traveling Fellowship (1938);
American Book Award (1984);
Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Caucus for Art (1991);
Listed in Distinguished Asian Americans

Miné Okubo (first name pronounced MEE-NEH;[3] February 10, 1912 – June 27, 2001) was an American artist and writer. She is best known for her book Citizen 13660, a collection of 189 drawings and accompanying text chronicling her experiences in Japanese American internment camps during World War II.[2][4]

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Okubo and her brother were interned to Tanforan Assembly Center and then the Topaz War Relocation Center from 1942 to 1944. There she made over 2000 drawings and sketches of daily life in the camps, many of which were included in her book. After her release Okubo relocated to New York to continue her career as an artist, earning numerous awards and recognitions.

Early life[edit]

Born in Riverside, California, Miné Okubo attended Poly High School, Riverside Junior College, and later received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley, class of 1938.[3] A recipient of the Bertha Taussig Memorial Traveling Fellowship in 1938,[5] Okubo spent two years traveling in France and Italy[6] where she continued her development as an artist. While in Paris, she studied under the famous early 20th century avant-garde painter Fernand Léger.[3]

From 1939 to 1942, following her return to American from Europe, Okubo created several murals under commission by the Federal Art Project.[7] She was also commissioned by the United States Army to create mosaic and fresco murals.[1] She collaborated with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in San Francisco for the Works Progress Administration.[1] Prior to the order for internment, while living in Berkeley, CA, Miné had been creating mosaics for Fort Ord and the Servicemen's Hospitality House in Oakland, CA. Miné obtained a special permit, an exemption to the 5-mile travel limit from home, necessary to perform her work in Oakland.[8]

Internment[edit]

On April 24, 1942, within five months of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and two months after Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066,[9] Miné along with her brother, Toku Okubo,[2] who had been a student at Berkeley, were relocated to the Japanese internment camp of Tanforan. Living in a converted horse stall furnished with army cots, they adjusted to the twice-daily roll calls, curfews and the lack of privacy.[10]

Following six months of confinement at Tanforan, Miné and her brother were transferred to the Topaz Relocation Center, Utah. Almost never without her sketchpad, Miné recorded her images of drama, humiliation and everyday struggle. While interned, Okubo taught art to children and later entered a magazine contest with a her drawing of a camp guard.

When Fortune magazine learned of her talent, the firm hired her as an illustrator, an arrangement that allowed her to leave the camp after a two-year confinement[4] and relocate to New York City. Prior to her relocation to New York, Okubo had shipped a crate of her belongings to Fortune magazine's offices.[6]

Citizen 13660[edit]

Following her confinement, Miné Okubo relocated to New York and published a book of her experiences, Citizen 13660, which documented, without bitterness, the indignities, struggle and sparse humor of daily life for internees at the camps. Named for the number assigned to her family unit, the book contains over two hundred of her pen and ink sketches accompanied by brief explanatory text. Published in 1946 and in print for more than 50 years since, the book provides a unique perspective on the historical record of the internment.[citation needed]

Later life and death[edit]

Okubo collaborated on the April 1944 special issue of Fortune magazine's article on Japan,[9] a work that included a small number of her drawings — the first time any of her work had been published. She remained in New York, continuing her career as an artist, for the next half century. She worked as a freelance illustrator and later resumed painting full time.

Okubo's art is found in solo and group exhibitions at museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,[2] and has been shown in many cities.[3] In 1948, designer Henry Dreyfuss had commissioned Okubo to create a large Mediterranean map mural for the main foyer of a new fleet of ships called "4 Aces" for American Export Lines.[11] — later pictured in a Fortune magazine article, Modern Art Goes to Sea.[12]

Miné Okubo testified in New York before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians following its establishment in 1981. Citizen 13660 — by then widely reviewed and recognized as an important reference book on the internment — was presented to the commission by Okubo.

Her book has been used in courses taught by teachers throughout the country for topics including female artists, artists in war, and ethnic artists. Becoming nationally recognized, Okubo received numerous awards, among which included the 1984 American Book Award[3] for Citizen 13660. In 1991, the Women's Caucus for Art awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award, and she is listed in Distinguished Asian Americans: A Biographical Dictionary edited by Hyung-chan Kim. At the time of her death in February 2001, Okubo was living in her canvas-filled apartment near Greenwich Village, Manhattan.[3]

Following her death in 2001, Okubo's various artworks and papers were transferred to Riverside Community College District, a primary beneficiary of the estate, for preservation of the collection.b[›] The transferred items include approximately 25 banker boxes of reference materials, photographs, slides, books, writings, letters, printed material, and a host of paintings, many unmounted as either loose canvas or rolled.[13]

Okubo became the subject of a play, Miné: A Name For Herself, written by Riverside author Mary H. Curtin and Theresa Larkin.[14] The play, interwoven with reminiscences about Okubo's later life as a New York artist, portrays her experiences in the camps of Tanforan and Topaz and shares her artwork and aesthetic principles with the audience.[6]

On February 22, 2006, Riverside Community College honored the memory of its noted alumna when it announced that a street on the campus had been renamed Miné Okubo Avenue.c[›]

As of August 2009, the school was working to catalog, archive and curate its collection of Okubo's personal writings, sketches, and paintings.[15]

Quotes[edit]

"In the camps, first at Tanforan and then at Topaz in Utah, I had the opportunity to study the human race from the cradle to the grave, and to see what happens to people when reduced to one status and one condition. Cameras and photographs were not permitted in the camps,d[›] so I recorded everything in sketches, drawings and paintings." Miné Okubo - preface to the 1983 edition of Citizen 13660[8]

"To me, life and art are one and the same, for the key lies in one's knowledge of people and life. In art one is trying to express it in the simplest imaginative way, as in the art of past civilizations, for beauty and truth are the only two things which live timeless and ageless."[16]

See also[edit]

  • Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, CA State Univ., Los Angeles, Theresa Larkin

Notes[edit]

^ a:  Riverside Junior College later became Riverside Community College. Miné attended the Riverside City campus.[6]

^ b:  Seiko Buckingham, Miné's niece and executor for the estate, assisted with the inventory and transfer of items to the college.[17]

^ c:  Miné Okubo Avenue, the first street to be renamed by the college,[18] is located on the campus at Riverside City, near the Landis Performing Arts Center. Mary H. Curtin, friend of Okubo and co-author of the play, "Miné: A Name for Herself," had recommended Miné for the renaming.

^ d:  While cameras in the possession of internees were regarded as contraband, photos taken by internees have been published. Official photos have also been published by news media and government sources. Rules regarding cameras varied among the camps and were revised over time.[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Hanstad, et al., Chelsie (2004-03-05). "Miné Okubo - Biography / Criticism". VG: Voices from the Gaps, Department of English, University of Minnesota. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  2. ^ a b c d Pace, Eric (2001-02-25). "Miné Okubo, 88, Dies; Art Chronicled Internment Camps" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Nash, Phil Tajitsu (2000-12-15). "Miné Okubo: Celebrating Art". AsianWeek, The Voice of Asian America. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  4. ^ a b Duffus, R.L. (1944-10-15). "Japanese in America" (PDF, fee required). New York Times. p. BR3. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  5. ^ The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley. "Miss Miné Okubo". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  6. ^ a b c d O'Brien, Pat (2005-10-07). " 'Miné A Name for Herself': A Mine Okubo Play" (PDF). Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA). p. AA19. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  7. ^ Spencer Jon Helfen. "Miné Okubo". Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  8. ^ a b Okubo, Miné (1983). Citizen 13660 (June 1983 ed.). University of Washington Press. pp. 209 (paperback). ISBN 0-295-95989-4. 
  9. ^ a b Knight, Jessica (2006-10-23). "Representing Internment: Ambivalent Visibility in Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660" (DOC). Graduate Workshop in Modern History, History Department at the University of Minnesota. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  10. ^ Anderson, M. Margaret (1946-09-22). "Concentration Camp Boarders, Strictly American Plan" (PDF, fee required). New York Times. p. BR4. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  11. ^ "Excalibur is set for maiden voyage". New York Times. 1948-09-24. 
  12. ^ "Modern Art Goes to Sea". Fortune. June 1949. p. 94. 
  13. ^ Hendrick, Irving G. (2008-08-19). "Miné Okubo Collection" (PDF). II-D. Riverside Community College District. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  14. ^ Larkin, Theresa (2008). "Production History". CSU at LA, Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  15. ^ Lin, Lynda (August 21, 2009). "College Works to Preserve Miné Okubo's Personal Material, Artwork". The Pacific Citizen. 
  16. ^ Robinson (Editor), Greg; Tajima Creef (Editor), Elena (2008). Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-98774-3. 
  17. ^ Rotella, Salvatore G. (2006-11-21). "Update on Miné Okubo Estate" (PDF). II-E. Riverside Community College District. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  18. ^ Cammarata, Tiffany (2006-03-09). "Alumnus honored - Avenue renamed for Mine Okubo". Riverside City College, Viewpoints - Online Edition. pp. section: news. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  19. ^ Hayashi, Masumi. "Masumi Hayashi Photography, Family Album Project". Masumi Hayashi Photography. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 

External links[edit]