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Searching for common ground in art

Lee A. Daniels | 10/17/2013, 2:24 p.m.
L to R (front row): Suki Terada Ports, Teddy Yoshikami, Koho Yamamoto, Tomie Arai, Franklin Odo, (back row) Daniel Carlton, Franklin Odo, Stephanie Berry Seitu Orondé photo

What common ground is there in the experience of Black Americans and Japanese-Americans—two groups of Americans who’ve experienced two different searing forms of discrimination and internal exile? A new exhibit by Community Works NYC is breaking new ground in exploring and connecting these two diverse American experiences. The double exhibit at the Interchurch Center in Manhattan is entitled “The Japanese American Internment Project: If they came for me today … East Coast Stories” and “Spirit of Community: Japanese American Artists.” It is one of the first exhibits ever staged to examine the experiences of Japanese-Americans in New York and other Eastern areas during World War II, when 120,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals were wrongly imprisoned in concentration camps in the West.

But Community Works NYC had an even broader purpose in conceiving the project: continuing its mission of encouraging New York City’s youth to develop positive visions of their own futures by helping them examine the past and present of the city’s own diverse population. New York City school students involved in Community Works’ broad array of programs interviewed the artists featured in the exhibit, helping to bring their stories and their work to a broader public. It became apparent at the reception celebrating the exhibit that such an effort can produce extraordinary results.

More than 400 New Yorkers—including a nearly even number of Black Americans and Japanese-Americans—came together to celebrate the exhibit and the 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the federal act apologizing to Japanese-Americans for the shameful wrongs they endured during the war.

The exhibit, which continues until Oct. 11, will be punctuated by another path-breaking event: an Oct. 1 panel discussion on art and social change by two Japanese-American and two African-American artists at 5:30 p.m. at the Interchurch Center. That event is being held to honor both the 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.