It’s strange the way things move, which is to say, almost imperceptibly. If they weren’t so near to the ground, they could almost be called light fixtures. They’re quasi-conical in shape, 11 feet tall, composed of thousands upon thousands of near-identical slips of paper that are distinguishable from one another only by the names handwritten on the preprinted lines. It seems fair to say that if by some chance occurrence a gust of wind were to enter the gallery, the sound produced would be akin to the rustle of leaves—the sound of so many pendant names and tags touching off one another. It’s chilling to realize that each tag corresponds to a name that corresponds to a person, who was issued a tag and ID number designating that person’s destination thousands of miles from their homes. It’s equally chilling to realize this is not just a hypothetical. This happened. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the mass evacuation of approximately 117,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
Although the tags are reproductions, the names are real. What these people experienced is real. To stand before them, these 16,000 tags representing the 16,000 Japanese Americans who were held at the internment camps of Rohwer and Jerome here in Arkansas, is to be overwhelmed. But frankly, that seems to be the point of artist Wendy Maruyama’s work. When a story is pushed off and forgotten in the annals of history and school curricula, history can sometimes fade in the retelling and, in worst-case scenarios, whitewashing and sugarcoating. This exhibit, however, won’t fade anytime soon.
A recent gift to the Arkansas Arts Center from the artist, Rohwer and Jerome (two of the 10 sculptures from The Tag Project) will be on exhibit through October.