NYS Writers Institute Graduate Assistant Kaori Otera Chen speaks with Setsuko Winchester, a conceptual artist who has also worked as a journalist, editor and producer at NPR’s Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation.
I would like us to listen to the stories of the Americans who were excluded from the Four Freedoms, as documented by Setsuko Winchester's "Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project." The phone conversation I had with Setsuko was illuminating and made me think deeper about race in America.
Manzanar — California: Photograph by Setsuko Winchester (retrieved from Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project website.)
In January1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt articulated the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of want, and freedom of fear during his famous Four Freedoms State of the Union address. He insisted that all Americans were entitled to those four freedoms, which were viewed as the universal basic human rights that Americans would be modeling for the world. But a year after the famous speech, in February 1942, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which incarcerated more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in 10 concentration camps in the U.S. The majority of those people were born and grew up in the United States.
Setsuko Winchester, the creator of the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project, made 120 hand-pinched yellow tea bowls. The color of the tea bowls represents “Yellow Peril” and each tea bowl represents 1000 individuals who were incarcerated.
“I created 120 yellow tea bowls and took them to all ten US concentration camps where 120,000 people of Japanese ethnicity were imprisoned during WWII and documented the moment with a photograph. My project seeks both to remind, and to warn, what may happen to freedom when fear rules the day.”
The ten concentration camps were built in Manzanar, CA, Tule Lake, CA, Rohwer, AR, Jerome, AR, Poston, AZ, Gila River, AZ, Amache, CO, Heart Mountain, WY, Minidoka, ID, and Topaz, UT. “Japanese Internment camp” is the term commonly used to refer the ten concentration campus in the U.S. However, Winchester points out two reasons why “Japanese internment camp” is inaccurate. 1). those people of Japanese ancestry who were sent to the camps were Americans. 2). They were never charged in crimes. Thus, “concentration camps” in which individuals are incarcerated based on who they are, not what they have done wrong, is accurate.
You can learn more about the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project at http://www.yellowbowlproject.com/
During our phone conversation, you mentioned that despite you having grown up in the United States, you never learned much in school about the part of American history which is the focus of the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl. How did you first learn about the stories of Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII because of Executive Order 9066?
The first time I heard about the round up and mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII was by accident. A substitute teacher came to teach a class one week in the middle school I attended in Northern NJ when I was about 13. She brought in a book called Farewell to Manzanar (which was first published in 1973). The book was not part of the curriculum so I think the substitute teacher may have brought it in because she had a Japanese American student in her class.
All I remember is that she brought in the book and told us the story about this girl who was born in the US (like me) and grew up in America (like me) and was a drum majorette (I was a cheerleader). She was also of Japanese ancestry like me but unlike me she lived in CA.
It also took place more than 30 years earlier in the run up to Pearl Harbor and she and her family end up in Manzanar, one of America's 10 concentration camps created to imprison persons of Japanese ancestry. When the teacher finished, there was silence. Finally, one boy said that doesn't happen in America, it's something that happens in Nazi Germany. Another boy said that if that were true, "She ought to know!" pointing at me. I was just as surprised because I didn't know anything about it. I had heard about "the war" but my parents had come to the US in the 1950's, after the US Occupation ended. My father was 14 years old when the war started and survived the carpet bombing of Tokyo with his older brother who was too sick to travel. The two teens were left to guard the house while the rest of the family evacuated to the country side. He said war is a terrible thing but other than that nothing much was said. I remember feeling that I just wanted to disappear in my chair from what I imagined were 30 pairs of accusing eyes glaring at me. Despite the substitute teacher's intentions, the feeling that was left among some of my classmates judging from some of the comments I received was that, surely people like me must have done something to deserve it.
The most uncomfortable was being told "You bombed Pearl Harbor" or "You had to be nuked." They say America is not a shame culture, but there clearly was an aim to shame in these taunts which started early. I would protest in my head..."it's not my fault, I wasn't born yet," but getting upset would only make things worse. You quickly learned that war and the shape of your eyes were the background for taunts of "jap," "chink" or as the Vietnam War got going there was the occasional "gook" as some bully or group of bored kids found amusement in tugging the corners of their eyes as they shoved their face close to yours or they would take turns slipping their hands into their sleeves and bowing before you with buck teeth and say "Ah soo!" I just stood there, scared, stunned and confused as to what to do when the retort, "Say something, I'm talking to you in Japanese!" came, but we were the only Japanese family and there was not much one Japanese girl could do about the situation. The adults didn't seem to notice or care and I didn't want to add more worries onto my mother who was trying very hard to learn English and navigate her way in this new country. I learned, out of self-preservation, to ignore the taunts but I realize now that I had also mentally and emotionally removed or distanced myself from this story in order to survive and feel "normal."
What does the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project mean to you?
It's a portrait of America at a specific slice in time. It's the ideal vs. the reality. Even before the formation of this new nation from British colonial possession to revolutionary beginnings, fueled by Protestant orthodoxy on one hand and the "Enlightenment" on the other, the incompatible contradictions in some of this nation's most sacred narratives were glaringly obvious so much so that events which occurred simultaneously are even to this day treated as if they are unrelated, separate stories like the B side of a hit vinyl record:
Side A: All Men are Created Equal/ Side B: Establishment of an International Slave Trade
Side A: With Liberty and Justice for All/ Side B: Naturalization Act of 1790
Side A: Emancipation Proclamation/Side B: The Trail of Tears
By focusing on the "Yellow Bowls" I wanted to examine some of the concepts we hold so dear to ask, "Was it what we thought it was?" "What does it mean to be 'free of fear'?" "Who's freedom?" "Who's fear?" "My fear?" "Yours?" "Who is included in us?" "When did I become a 'them'?" "Was it really after Pearl Harbor or was it much earlier?"
For journalists, anniversaries are important. I had been told more than once after leaving NPR that I needed to learn my "own" history by which they meant Japanese history. But I knew that when I visited relatives in Japan on summer holidays, it was those times when I was called an "American." After years of remaining willfully ignorant of the B side of the "war" story I began looking into the Japanese side of the American narrative in earnest after my mother died in 2012. In 2015, I knew the 75th anniversary of the signing of EO 9066 was approaching on Feb. 19, 2017. I wanted to see for myself where it was that I would have had to go if it were 1942.
Despite being a US citizen as I had more than 1/16th Japanese blood, it would mean forced removal and mass incarceration to one of ten US concentration camps if I were living on the west coast; house arrest, frozen bank accounts, curfews, travel bans and restrictions everywhere else. It would mean the FBI probably had a file on me and that if I thought I was being spied on I most likely was. It would mean no due process - in other words - no charges, no trial or hearing, nor was there any protection from the Geneva Conventions. It also meant, 'Only what you could carry', barbed wire fences, flood lights, guard towers and soldiers with bayonets and rifles. A year later, in 1943, would come the "Loyalty Questionaire" used to determine loyalty among a people put away precisely because the government had determined that it was impossible to figure out who was loyal and who was not, therefor they all, every man, woman and child had to be incarcerated. Questions number 27 and 28 in the poorly worded document would separate the community into the NoNo's and the YesYes's with the Yes's joining the segregated all Japanese American 442nd or be drafted into it from a US concentration camp, while the NoNo's would end up at Tule Lake, a maximum security segregation center. At the end of 4 years, with no place to go and told not to return from where you came (the west coast), you would now leave with "Only what you could carry" with help from the government of 25 dollars and a bus ticket. Rather than remaining silent, I learned that many wrote to their congressman, their local officials before going into the camps, they spoke up and rioted within the camps and more than one (three men and one woman) would take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. One of the cases Endo would win her case by a narrow judgement, but the other three, Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui, like Plessy vs Ferguson or Dred Scott, the courts would rule that discrimination based on race (or nationality) was consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law. While the US was at war with Germany and Italy, the same principles were not applied to Americans of those enemy nations. In other words, race mattered.
What was your journey to create the Yellow Bowl Project like?
Shamefully, I think it's the story I had been avoiding all my life. WWII, FDR, The Greatest Generation...these are the third rails of American politics. You can't look too closely without being severely singed. It was the Good War, he was America's most popular and longest serving President, this generation had seen the worst and the best of humanity. The fate of a bunch of "immigrants" from the enemy nation of Japan sent away into "camps" for their "own protection" in remote locations in the middle of deserts, mountains and swamps of America was just a side bar. Even the ACLU leadership said it was unfortunate but necessary at the time. Nothing to see here. And that would remain the story until I was assigned the task of preparing a show about the upcoming exhibit of the newly refurbished Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which was opening in Washington DC. I was an intern at WNYC Radio in New York City as a graduate student of journalism at NYU, now working on my second career.
The Enola Gay had been restored at great expense and the legendary plane was slated to make its debut for the 50th anniversary of the first time a nuclear weapon was ever used in an act of war in human history in 1945. I had been running around the city researching another story and had stopped at my favorite cafe in Nolita called Cafe Gitane to get a quick bite to eat and a caffeine pick me up. I had just been given the ARC of the catalogue for the show and had placed it on the seat next to me to glance over as I drank my coffee when an acquaintance stopped by to say hello. After saying goodbye, I realized I was running short on time and I quickly swallowed my small meal and dashed off to my next appointment. Back at my apartment, I sat down to dive into the ARC when I realized it was not in my book bag or my oversized purse. In a panic, I called the cafe to see if they had seen it and began revisiting all the places I had been since. Apologetically, I told my producer that I had misplaced it somehow and that I was desperately sorry. She said don't worry, a copy of the real catalogue should be arriving soon.
Little did I know that the exhibit which was soon to open at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in the nation's capital would prove so controversial, that the Director of the National Air and Space Museum, Martin Harwit would be sacked, the exhibit panned as "revisionist" history by none other than Charleton Heston, with the original exhibit scrapped never to be seen by anyone to be replaced by a smaller, appropriately patriotic version of the show.
The real catalogue never came. The talk show planned with the Director and other scholars never happened. The other books were also cancelled. Years later, in 2005, during the 60th anniversary, I tried to talk with a prominent WWII historian about the controversy over the exhibit and the closing of the show. He promptly told me that no such thing happened, "We don't censor history in this country" he said. The following year in 2006, at the Corcoran Museum of Art also in Washington, DC. I managed to catch a major retrospective of the work of famed Japanese photographer, Shomei Tomatsu. A special section in a separate room featured images he took in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb was dropped. The caption said that these photographs were being shown for the first time since they were first confiscated by the American Occupation forces. The caption went on to say that any information about the bomb, including the fact that there was any censorship about it, was censored.
All the things that couldn't be said, I decided I was going to visually show instead. In 2015 and 2016, I head out to places called Rohwer and Jerome in AR, Poston and Gila River in AZ, Manzanar and Tule Lake in CA, Amache (Granada) in CO, Heart Mountain in WY, Minidoka in ID, and Topaz in UT with 120 yellow tea bowls which I had hand pinched, each representing 1000 of the 120,000 individuals incarcerated in these massive prison camps in order to document their journey with a site specific photograph.
The result is what I call the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project. You can see the images of where they went and why on my website at: www.yellowbowlproject.com/
You told me that you were learning Japanese history. What does it mean to you as a person of Japanese ancestry who grew up in the United States?
When you have immigrant parents, you grow up thinking you know the country of your parents' birth intimately as you live with someone from that culture. I grew up taking my shoes off at the "genkan." We ate gohan and omisoshiru for breakfast. My mother would pack us onigiri when we had to bring in lunch for a school outing (embarrassing). We said "Itteki-masu" when we left for school and "Tadaima" when we came home. I had a Hello Kitty, Sanrio stationery collection acquired on summer vacation visits to Tokyo (it made me popular in kindergarten!). Tokyo was a very modern city with subways, an extensive public transportation system and Tokyo Station was a terminal for the Bullet train, one of the fastest long distance trains in the world at the time, which was introduced the year I was born, in 1962. What I loved about the country was the mix of new, old and ancient. My grandparents had plates that were much older than the US while using some of the latest gadgets coming out of Akihabara (the part of town where consumer electronic products were sold). I took pleasure in the old wagashi shops where older women wearing kimonos would order tea with a sweet bean cake or the delightfully refreshing kaki-gori was a real treat in the humid summers. There were pickle or noodle shops run by the same family for many centuries. My father and mother's family were in publishing and book binding and they grew up in Jimbo-cho which was and still is part of the antique books section of Tokyo and is oddly enough one of the few places which survived the napalm firebombing of Tokyo, said to be the single most destructive manmade event in world history.
But it was also on these visits that I fell in love with ceramics. There was a plate, bowl or vessel for every occasion, every mood, every season, every kind of food. There were vessels for flowers for festive occasions or ceremonial vessels for when you died. Some of the oldest items found anywhere in the world from human habitation is ceramic. I would take a lesson here or there on visits and also learn about some of the different ware peculiar to a region because of the clay found there. During college, I took a class with a ceramics professor who had studied with the Japanese American ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu and I was hooked. But life happens and my interests went in other directions taking me into the world of finance and Wall Street during the Go Go 80's and then another detour into the world of journalism in the 90's, but it always remained in the background.
One of the things which really struck me working in finance and then the news business was how generic and stereotypical Americans knowledge of Japan or most Asian countries was and yet, the amount of news coverage of "Japan" or Asia in the 80's and 90's was prodigious. Everyone from Donald Trump (yes, the future president) to writers like Jay McInerney (who wrote about his student days in Japan and became a bestselling author) were suddenly experts on this complex and ancient land and everyone had an opinion. But often the pictures they'd paint were stereotyped images of samurai, geisha, or the new version of "Yellow Peril" which was the army of identically dressed businessmen in dark suits or tourists with the ubiquitous camera, bowing. You would occasionally learn about an Isamu Noguchi or a George Nakashima (both Japanese Americans it would turn out) and of course the much vilified, for breaking up the Beatles, Yoko Ono. But those pieces were rare. More often than not, the articles would be written in the vein of "Japan Inc" or "Those Wacky Japanese" or merely peppered with the term "The Japanese." At an early peak, the fear of these people was used to justify the smashing of Japanese cars around the country and even the murder of an Asian man named Vincent Chin in Detroit who was beaten to death by two white men because they thought he was Japanese. The two men pleaded guilty to a lesser crime and only paid a fine of $3000 and served no jail time.
Then came the US stock market crash and the bursting of Japan's real estate bubble which would usher in the Lost Decade, a prolonged recession in Japan that lasted from 1991 to 2001. The fear turned to pity and the anxiety quickly turned to China or the Middle East and Muslims.
It was when I moved to the Berkshires in 2006 that I began dabbling in ceramics again and it was through my interest in wabi sabi, the tea ceremony, the tea master Sen no Rikyu and the period of Sakoku brought about by the rise of the Shogunate which lasted for nearly 265 years of peace following the Sengoku Warring States Era. There are several things I found out about that period which still intrigues me. The merchant class (which was at the bottom of a very rigid the feudal society topped by Nobles, Samurai, Farmers, then Merchants at the bottom) flourished for the first time. With no war, warriors began to battle over the best haiku or best tea ceremony giving rise to the arts, Tokyo became one of the first cities to reach over a million people and that during the Edo/Tokugawa period the city produced almost zero waste. I learned this from a master wood working tool maker when I was looking for a gift for my husband who had just decided to try his hand in joinery.
Japanese aggression and its attempts to box above its weight or even the introduction of the "science" of Eugenics from the west, which lead it to believe that it might be better than other Asian nations lead to tragic results. However, just like American history didn't happen exactly as it is described in one's school books, none of this happened in a vacuum. I think it's fair to say that it was US imperial ambitions in the Pacific and American aggression that helped bring about the fall of the previous government with its isolationist policies, ushering in change that was already somewhat underway, but now turbocharged.
The US and Britain would also help reintroduce guns into the society, which was eradicated under the Shogunate. The new Meiji government backed by the west also replaced the Shogun with a young relative of the old emperor enthroning him as head of state when historically that role had been as spiritual leader, thereby opening a period of Emperor worship. And rather than a peaceful transition, as is often said, what followed was the Boshin War, a civil war that up ended many of the old alliances. In order to keep the shogun from rising again and to build a modern army that could stand equal to the west, the new Meiji government, ironically on the advice of the west, brought in mandatory conscription, requiring anyone in their 20's to undergo military training, formerly the domain of a highly trained elite. The responsibility to defend the nation, once a specialized field, now was extended to the son of every tofu maker, tatami mat or pickle merchant. Some left because they were on the losing side and had lost everything. Others ventured out because the society as it was had collapsed and were refugees looking for opportunities in the new world. Still others left to escape conscription.
Emperor worship and Bushido, often used to malign the rise of Japanese aggression and imperial ambitions ironically happened with the consent and advice of the "West" during a time of rapid Westernization. In other words, it went from isolation and sustainability to expansion and colonization, in an effort to emulate the rising power of other small European countries who were short on raw materials but had developed strong navies, invested in mass production facilities and military power, who were now carving up the world imbued with mercantile zeal rapidly acquiring far away colonies rich in natural resources and cheap labor to enforce unfair trade treaties and practices. While it turned out well for the transatlantic set, this kind of behavior now perpetrated by an "Oriental" nation would not be countenanced by the West.
Why does the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project matter in terms of understanding race in America?
It's not so much the project than the importance of knowing how race and fear of the other helped shape who could become a citizen. While Black lives definitely mattered and still matters today, the laws against other non-whites illustrate how the legal wording wasn't just about race, but place. Asians are often asked "Where are you from?" and we all know they don't mean Chicago, Portland or Sacramento. It usually means "From what foreign country are you descended." Well it turns out it actually did matter...legally.
To understand, we need to start with the 1790's Naturalization Act, one of the earliest laws written after the colonists won the War of Independence from the British. Faced with the opportunity of crafting a new nation, they had to decide who could be a part of it. This law set the terms for who could naturalize. There were factors like good character or length of stay but a strange criterion, for a nation founded on freedom and liberty, was that you had to be an "Alien." Location mattered. You had to be from elsewhere, but makes sense if you want to exclude the original inhabitants. But the most important and defining point was that you had to be "white." In other words, no locals and no Africans for example. This remained the law of the land until after the Civil War when a small group of lawmakers began calling for the removal of the word "white" so that the newly freed slaves could become citizens. At around this time a different group of "aliens," the Chinese, began coming in the 1850's and 1860's looking for opportunity, either to find gold or recruited to help build the transcontinental railroad in the aftermath of the British Opium Wars. The US was also still in the middle of actively trying to remove the Native people out of its new state California and from lands east of the Mississippi with the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In order to keep the restrictions on the Native peoples as well as the Chinese, they kept the word "white" and added "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent" instead in the updated Naturalization Act of 1870. Africans could now become citizens, but they were still "not white" like the others.
Now the Yellow Peril rhetoric which started in California and the western states soon spread to factories in the northeast. In fact, it was in 1870 that a shoe factory in North Adams, here in Berkshire County Massachusetts where I live became ground zero for the start of a national anti-Chinese movement. This was because Chinese laborers were used as scapegoats in a pitched battle between industrialists rapidly mechanizing their factories - therefore requiring fewer workers- against Irish and French Canadian labor unions. (https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/chinese-workers-arrive-in-north-adams.html)
By 1882, Congress and President Chester A. Arthur would sign into law The Chinese Exclusion Act which would prohibit immigration from China and officially declare Chinese immigrants unassimilable and ineligible to naturalize. It would be the first time that a Federal law would restrict an entire group of people based solely on their national origin. It would also later require Chinese already in the country to carry special documentation from the IRS as proof of residence or risk being sentenced to hard labor and deportation.
This is when the Japanese come in. The recently opened nation, with its citizens facing social upheaval and rapid industrialization like their western counterparts are heavily recruited to come west to work first on sugar plantations in Hawaii then on to seek better opportunities on the mainland. As these new immigrants arrive the same Yellow Peril rhetoric used to target people from China would be transferred to them led by none other than powerbrokers like San Francisco Mayor and banker James Phelan, leader of the Asian Exclusion League. A Gentlemen's Agreement signed in 1908 between Japanese officials and President Theodore Roosevelt would significantly curb Japanese immigration to the US.
By 1924, Congress would pass the Asian Exclusion Act which would ban all immigration from Asia. With immigration stopped, legislators started focusing on extending the restrictions like the Alien Land Laws placed on people ineligible to naturalize, mostly Asians - to their US citizen children. The trajectory for Asians was increasingly less freedom, not more.
By 1942, most Japanese were assimilated and 70% were US citizens. Pearl Harbor is often said to be the reason behind FDR's signing of EO 9066 which would allow the military to round up anyone with 1/16th Japanese blood from the west coast of the United States, but the desire to remove these people, like the Chinese and the Native Americans before them existed way before the advent of the war. It mattered that they were "Yellow" and it mattered that their ancestry was Japanese. In other words, race and place mattered.
UAlbany is home for many Asian students both domestic and international. What messages would you have for our students who have been going through difficult times particularly regarding anti-Asian violence?
As human beings, there is a desire to be recognized as an individual (I'm not Asian, I'm Setsuko!) but also to be part of the group (I'm proud to be Japanese but I'm also an American) and there's also how the individual sees oneself (a writer, an artist) or how the state or organizations sees you (check one of the boxes: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian or Other. If Asian choose one of the following: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, Cambodian... etc.) Like I said earlier, "where are you from?" is a question that disappears for some groups (on most forms, there is no If White choose one of the following: British, German, Italian, Dutch, Austrian, Spanish, Canadian, Greek, French, Russian, Australian, Albanian, Danish,) and why is that? It turns out being "not white" mattered because depending on what nation from which you were descended, different laws applied.
For example, I didn't know growing up that within my life time, there were anti-miscegenation laws in many states in which my present marriage to a white British man was against the law as were most interracial marriages. The law had been overturned in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 by a court lead by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The same Justice who ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in Brown v Board of Education but was also the very same justice who back in 1942 was Attorney General of California where interracial marriages between whites and Japanese was illegal and as a staunch proponent the removal and mass incarceration of the Japanese Americans, would become Governor of California that very same year. History can change quickly, but it can also change back.
One can't do anything about what's already happened but one can learn from it. How did it change and why? In a country based on the rule of law, the law is precedent which means if it was a bad law, it could happen again. The election of Obama for example, was one giant step forward for African Americans in the vein of the 1870's Naturalization Act which would give citizenship to Africans and persons of African descent for the first time, only to find that the southern states would pass Jim Crow.
As a student of journalism, I've learned how to read the news not just for information, but for the mood of the country. Words matter and so does representation when it comes to the law. Before "Kung Flu," many politicians were complaining "China, China, China." What the Japanese American Experience showed was that what happened to one Asian group (Chinese Exclusion) could soon happen to us all (Asian Exclusion.)
For minorities, who often get overlooked, an important thing to remember about the US is that we are all immigrants or descendants of "Aliens" (except the Native peoples). There's a saying in George Orwell's Animal Farm which goes, "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Animal Farm is supposed to symbolize Russia and the Soviet Union under Communist Party rule but a look at the history of US race (and place) laws, this was also very true of the United States.
So my advice to students is to learn your history and speak up. I think ignorance can be the agent of fear, so if you feel you are in danger or have been wronged, definitely ask for help.
By doing the Yellow Bowl Project, I found out I was not alone in my ignorance but doing so also opened up for me a whole universe of people I never knew existed, (like Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Mitsuye Endo, Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga or even much earlier Takuji Yamashita). They had asked the same questions I'm asking, decades, even a century before me. In the end, it was something I did for myself, but in the process you just might enlighten others.
Can you tell us about your next project?
The Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project is actually part of a trilogy. It was conceptualized soon after I visited all the camps and they are a work in progress. Part II is called the Dissent Collars.
It's a series of four collars made of ceramic tiles, each illuminating a law which ruled out an entire people's ability to naturalize because they were "not white." The basis was rooted in the 1790's and updated 1870's Naturalization Acts. Most of these laws were hammered out after the Civil War as new immigrants of non-European and non-African countries began coming and challenging the idea of US citizenship in the courts and losing.
Dissent Collars is inspired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg practice of wearing a specific collar to court when she had a dissenting opinion on a ruling, These are the laws I'm dissenting.
Part III is called The Plate Project: Buried History. The concept behind this is just as the title says, burying history. Whether it's intentional or merely a factor of time, different stories get buried physically and metaphorically for various reasons from politics to a natural disaster. Archeologist who excavate sites of human habitation, find that ceramic vessels are often the last things to remain. In a nod to this phenomenon, I plan to create platters glazed with various laws on them and literally bury them in the ground to be dug up as a literal act of digging up American history and laws that have been metaphorically "buried."
This installation focuses on the Exclusion laws. They came about as a direct result of the White Prerequisite legislation. which state and federal lawmakers used as the basis to exclude non-whites from being able to own land, lease land, freely entering or leave the country or even prohibiting them from testifying against a White person. The US was the first nation to use the concept of "race" as a prerequisite for citizenship. Rather than spreading freedom, Canada also instituted whites only laws and other brand-new countries would follow suit: Australia became an independent state and instituted the White Australia Policy in 1901. New Zealand established their White New Zealand policy in 1920. But more ominously, Nazi Germany would use the US as the framework for the establishment of a White Christian German state. In search of a model for the formation of a new empire, the Nazi's admired America's ability to get rid of its native peoples and to establish a hierarchy based on race with Whites at the top. Even more ominously, South Africa's Apartheid state was established after WWII...in 1948. During WWII in America, the call for the forced removal or imprisonment of persons of Japanese ancestry spanned as far north as Alaska to the bottom of South America in Peru. The Yellow Bowl Project shows that racism did not end in 1865 with the Civil War or 1945 and WWII. It just became better defined and refined. These laws should be dug up and re-examined.