Shimomura's work brings dark history to light

Max Rotham

It’s easy to forget a barbed wire barrier when you weren’t behind it. Roger Shimomura, his family and more than 120,000 other Japanese were. Shimomura never forgot.

“Government,” he said, “has a very, very short memory.”

Shimomura unveiled “Shadow of Minidoka” Friday night at the Lawrence Art Center to a bustling croaw of wine sippers, art aficionados and passersby. The two-room gallery, which will be open to the public until March 12, features Shimomura’s acrylic paintings and collected artifacts. The works reflect on and resurface the two years he spent at an internment camp for Japanese Americans in Minidoka, Idaho during the Second World War

“We’re looking at something more than paying lip-service to diversity and history,” said Carol Ann Carter, professor of painting and former colleague of Shimomura.

The paintings rely on recurring symbols to imprint their meaning and ensure that the viewer refamiliarizes oneself with this American tragedy. Shadow of the Enemy depicts the silhouette of a pigtailed girl skipping rope—the atypical villain. In most pieces, no matter the mood, barbed wire dangles around the exterior.

“The proliferation of barbed wire represents the confluence of symbolic confinement as well as actually confinement,” Shimomura said. “People are not free to live their lives as America promises is their nationalistic right.”

The most gripping evidence of injustice lies within the room of artifacts. Among other items, propaganda, government orders, newspaper clippings, camp artwork and letters on the gallery’s walls tell the story of the prisoners’ plight.

“I have been trying to analyze the psychology of the people while calming my own resentment against some of the asinine benevolence of this benign-intentioned government and the workings of human nature in the raw,” wrote an evacuee to friends in a letter from 1942-43.

Ben Ahlvers, exhibitions director of the Lawrence Arts Center who installed the art, cited the artifacts as “the cornerstone” of the exhibition.

“The conglomeration of all of those parts make for a personal connection,” he said.

Richard Thomas Barkosky, Haskell University freshman of Tucson, AZ, was a youthful outlier in the mostly middle-aged gathering.

“It reminds me of comic books,” Barkosky said of the acrylic works. “It’s cartoony.”

Though the lucid style of painting may oddly juxtapose such austere subjects, Shimomura is able to remove personal influence from his art.

“The anger, pain and frustration,” he said, “stops when I decide what I am going to paint.”


--Edited by Dave Boyd