The Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives at the Leatherby Libraries and the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences have collaborated to create a semester-long exhibit, Images and Imaginings of Internment: Comics and Illustrations of Camp.

This exhibition highlights Japanese American wartime incarceration and its lasting legacy through the lens of comics and illustrations. The exhibit teaches that during the Japanese American internment in WWII, those incarcerated were not allowed to document their daily life using film and photography. Instead, they turned to drawing comics and pictures as a lasting way to tell their stories.

This exhibit has taken the illustrations of Japanese American incarcerees and brought them together to tell a complex story of contrasting narratives that shaped Americans’ perceptions of Japanese Americans for generations. Through a combination of comics depicting Japanese Americans’ experiences in the internment and images circulated as anti-Japanese American propaganda, Images and Imaginings of Internment highlights the power of illustrations to construct narratives that continue to influence how Asian Americans are represented in popular culture.

Annie Tang, Chair of Special Collections & Archives and University Archivist helped make this exhibit possible. Additionally, Tang supported Wilkinson in earning a grant that helped fund this exhibition. She would like to convey special thanks to the Leatherby Libraries Marketing and Development team for providing the use of display cases for this cross-campus exhibition.

Within the exhibition, Tang also personally curated the display case, titled “The Munemitsu Legacy: The Japanese American Family Behind Mendez v. Westminster: California’s First Successful Desegregation Case,” located in Special Collections, which holds artifacts and reproduction photographs from the Munemitsu Family Collection. This collection tells the story of the Japanese American family associated with the California desegregation court case Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District of Orange County et al.

Tang states about her work aiding in the curation of the exhibit, “It has been a joy to incorporate one of my favorite archival collections into this exhibit, which sheds light on the Japanese American incarceration through the lens of comics and drawings. Janice Munemitsu, a friend of the library who donated the Munemitsu Family Collection years ago, is thrilled to see her loved ones’ artifacts, papers, and photographs featured physically and digitally in our spaces. In addition, local Japanese-American community members are heartened by the simple existence of such a display on campus. I am reminded that symbolism and representation are so important to historically marginalized communities. Seeing the faces of grandparents, parents, and college-aged children beaming with gratitude from seeing their history has made me profoundly proud to have worked on this project.”

This powerful exhibit showcases the influence that images circulated in the media can have on societal perceptions. The comics showcased in this exhibit show how people of Asian descent were depicted by themselves and others, shaping present-day Asian representation. By studying the usage of images circulated by the media in the past through the creation and distribution of comics telling the intimate stories of Japanese American incarcerees, we can better understand, in our modern society, the powerful impact of images shared on social media. Understanding the influence of visual media on society can help us understand how societal beliefs are shaped and reinforced. 

In conjunction with the physical exhibit, a virtual exhibition has been created to examine further comics and visual representations’ impact on understanding Japanese Americans’ experiences during wartime incarceration. 

*This cross-campus exhibit has materials on display in the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives on the Fourth Floor of the Leatherby Libraries and items are presented on the first floor’s lobby. The exhibition also had materials on display on the first floor of Roosevelt Hall. The exhibit in the library will remain on display through the end of January 2024.”

The Leatherby Libraries’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts align with the Chapman University Strategic Plan for Diversity & Inclusion, fostering a diverse and inclusive campus climate.