“Life Interrupted” explores history of WWII camps through dance & art

 

Xenophobia and perseverance. Isolation and equality.

Fear. Hope. Humanity.

Those are a few of the themes that will be explored through a rich mixture of panel discussions, an interactive art installation, and a dance performance as Drury University hosts the “Life Interrupted” program on campus and at the Drury on C-Street Gallery in early February.

“Life Interrupted” tells the story of the internment camps set up by the U.S. government to hold Japanese-Americans in the days and years following the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the nation’s subsequent entry into World War II. It explores themes that are as relevant today as they were seven decades ago as it examines the lives of those who were interned in the camps – including one not far from the Ozarks in Rohwer, Arkansas.

The project makes its way to Drury February 2 through 7, and will include public panel discussions, an interactive art installation by Drury students and a theatrical dance performance by the award winning CORE Performance Company of Atlanta and Houston at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, February 4. (Tickets are free but must be claimed – click here to do so.)

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It’s a personal story for Drury architecture professor Nancy Chikaraishi, whose parents were interned in Rohwer as young adults after being forced to move from their homes in California. Chikaraishi’s artwork is digitally projected during the performance and she is the visual arts collaborator on the project. She was instrumental in bringing “Life Interrupted” to Drury and is the lead organizer for the series of events.

“It’s a personal story because my parents experienced it, and my grandparents experienced it,” she says. “And I still meet people who have never heard of the camps, especially the ones in Arkansas. People don’t know it happened, and when they find out they’re really surprised. Surprised, then shocked that Americans did this to other Americans.”

The surprise and shock continues to resonate, Chikaraishi says, when we consider the historical parallels to today as issues such as a Muslim registry and ethnic profiling make headlines.

“It’s 75 years past and we’re still grappling with the same issues – fear of people we don’t know, fear of people who look different from us,” she says.

Chikaraishi first became involved with the “Life Interrupted” dance project through the WWII Japanese American Internment Museum in Rohwer, in rural southeast Arkansas. Her original artwork, which was inspired by the stories her parents told her about the camps, was exhibited by the museum and caught the attention of Sue Schroeder, CORE’s artistic director. The dance performance is the project’s centerpiece and CORE has performed “Gaman,” the precursor to “Life Interrupted,” at the University of Central Arkansas and at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in northwest Arkansas.

Chikaraishi

Chikaraishi

“It’s a really powerful performance,” Chikaraishi says. “It’s amazing that an art form that doesn’t use words is able to process a historical event and express really deep emotions through movement and interaction.”

The series of events kicks off at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2 with a roundtable discussion featuring community leaders from NAACP, Grupo Latinoamericano, the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights, the Islamic Society of Joplin, and PROMO (Promoting Equality for All Missourians). On Friday, Feb. 3, CORE will conduct a dance workshop/story circle from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Drury on C-Street Gallery, followed by an art exhibit by Chikaraishi and the interactive art installation by Drury students from 6 to 8 p.m. Both exhibits will be part of the monthly First Friday Artwalk. The “Life Interrupted” dance performance is at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Wilhoit Theater on campus. Finally, a panel discussion on “Architecture, Space & Power” will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, also at the Drury on C-Street Gallery.

For Chikaraishi, the series of events will be a reminder of what her family went through those many years ago, and she hopes it will be just that – a reminder – for others as well.

“America is a place that is very open to others,” she says, “but we have to keep remembering that.”

This is project is supported in part by awards from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, National Endowment for the Arts, Missouri Arts Council, and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, Springfield Regional Arts Council and Community Foundation of the Ozarks, DoubleTree by Hilton, Nelson and Kelley Still Nichols, Colorgraphic Printing, Drury University, Drury University’s Hammons School of Architecture and the L.E. Meador Center for Politics and Citizenship.

For more information, email Nancy Chikaraishi at nchikaraishi@drury.edu. You can view her artwork at www.nancychikaraishi.com. All of the events can be found on Drury’s D.Cal event calendar.

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