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 Mine Okubo  (1912 - 2001)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: painting-mod townscape-genre, abstraction

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Ad Code: 3
Mine Okubo
from Auction House Records.
Cow-Bird-Sun, 1981
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following obituary is from The New York Times:

Miné Okubo, Whose Art Chronicled Internment Camps, Dies at 88
February 25, 2001
By ERIC PACE

Miné Okubo, a Japanese-American artist who recorded in 2,000 drawings
and a book what she saw and felt as an internee in American detention camps for Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II, died on Feb. 10 in Manhattan.  She was 88 and lived in Manhattan.

Miss Okubo, who pronounced her first name mee-neh, was one of 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans living in Western states who were evacuated from their homes early in 1942.  They were interned by the federal government as a precautionary measure, a move that has been much criticized.  Two- thirds of the internees were, like her, American citizens.

She was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Riverside, California.  Her father worked as a gardener. She received a master's degree in art from the University of California at Berkeley.  In 1938 she was awarded a fellowship to study and travel in Europe, but World War II cut short her stay.

Early in the 1940's, she was employed by the Works Progress Administration in San Francisco.  While the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera stood on scaffolding and painted murals, she was below, explaining his work to onlookers.

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 changed her life painfully for two years.  Other members of her family were also interned.

"Nothing had been prepared or planned for this rushed and forced evacuation," she wrote in 1983 in a new edition of her book, Citizen 13660 (University of Washington Press), which originally appeared in 1946. "There were untold hardships, sadness, and misery."

She and her brother Toku were sent to an "assembly center" in San Bruno, California. There they had to live for almost half a year in what had been a horse stall.  Later they were sent to "protective custody" in the Topaz Relocation Center in the Utah desert.  She spent the rest of the two years there and then was released.

"Because of the injustices and contradictions nothing made much sense" in the camps, she wrote in 1983, but in them she had the opportunity "to see what happens to people when reduced to one status and condition.  Cameras and photographs were not permitted in the camps, so I recorded everything in sketches, drawings and paintings."  In a 1947 interview, she said that at the Topaz camp, "You had to work hard to keep yourself going, and to keep from thinking."

She sent a drawing of a Topaz guard to an art show in San Francisco.  It won a prize, which led to assignments from Fortune magazine to illustrate articles.  This freed her from Topaz and brought her to Manhattan, where she made her home until her death.

Citizen 13660, containing text and 206 drawings, won praise when it appeared.  The book was named for the number Miss Okubo was given as an internee.  "The number was on suitcases and everything you owned, all the papers you signed," she recalled. "You became a number."

She wrote in 1983 that the book had begun "as a special group of drawings made to tell the story of camp life for my many friends who faithfully sent letters and packages to let us know we were not forgotten."

A review in The New York Times Book Review in 1946 said:  "In a remarkably objective and vivid and even humorous account," Miss Okubo told the whole story of her internment "in dramatic and detailed drawings and brief text."

"The drawings reveal a two-way process at work," the review said, "the gradual demoralization of a group where family ties had ceased to matter under the system of mass living and mass feeding, and the resourcefulness and resilience of these fellow-Americans who tried desperately to turn negative living into something positive."

After moving to Manhattan, Ms. Okubo did freelance illustration and then resumed painting full time.  Her work appeared in solo and group exhibitions at museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.




Biography from Oakland Museum of California:
Mine Okubo was a native Californian who studied art at the University of California. Interned in 1942 at the Topaz Relocation Camp, she produced paintings and drawings depicting camp life. Her paintings depict poignant representations of the history of Japanese Americans in California and the nation.
Her first major West Coast show was at the Oakland Museum in 1972. When she passed away, Okubo left the works from that show to the museum.


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