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Tag Project’ Brings To Light A Dark Time In U.S. History

Installation view of Wendy Maruyama's

Credit: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Above: Installation view of Wendy Maruyama's "The Tag Project," on view earlier this year at the SDSU Art Gallery. A portion of the work is on view at The Old Globe, in conjunction with the play "Allegiance."

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During the dark days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans reacted in a number of proud and courageous ways ... but also in one terribly atrocious way. Under U.S. Executive Order 9066, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were forced to leave their homes and transported east to internment camps in 1942. It is a shameful part of our history, and therefore one that is often forgotten.

Wendy Maruyama, an artist, SDSU professor and third-generation Japanese-American, decided to make a work to honor the approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were interned, and bring more awareness to this dark chapter in U.S. history. Her work, "The Tag Project," consists of 10 massive sculptures composed of handmade paper tags — recreations of the identification tags that each Japanese-American man, woman and child were issued — strung together and hanging from the ceiling.

Each bundle, approximately 11 feet tall and four feet wide, represents one of the 10 internment camps. Strung together with a red cord, the tags cascade from a steel ring suspended by steel cable. The largest groupings weigh approximately 150 pounds.

"I was taken by the physical weight of these tags when they were completed and hung, despite appearing to be light and airy," states Maruyama on "The Tag Project" website. "I feel that the sheer numbers and the scale of these tags will convey to all who view this that the internment was a massive project that was to affect an entire culture of people and their future generations."

The concept was inspired by the thousands of origami cranes at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, as well as the photographs of Dorothea Lange, who documented the internment camps. "It was her photos that initially provided the physical and emotional weight of the internment, and how it so profoundly affected the Japanese American citizens during and for years to come," states Maruyama.

In conjunction with the new musical "Allegiance," now running at The Old Globe, a portion of The Tag Project is on view in the theater's lobby. A related exhibition of objects from the internment camps, organized by the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, will be on view at the Museum of Man Annex, next to the Globe.

KPBS Midday Edition speaks with Linda Canada, president of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, about The Tag Project, as well as the Japanese-American internment and its impact on San Diego County.

The Tag Project” can be seen 45 minutes before each performance of "Allegiance," now through October 21 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. Beginning September 25, the public may view the work from 3-5 pm on Tuesday afternoons.


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