Dale Watanabe Interview Screenshot

Video interview with Dale Watanabe

In this video interview, Dale Watanabe talks about the meaning behind the art behind barbed wire.

Conducted at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center

This is one of the ones I am loaning for the exhibit, Art Behind Barbed Wire. It’s a bird pin and was made in Minidoka. And you can tell its hand made because of the safety pin that’s affixed to the back. We do know it was hand made in Minidoka it was actually found in an estate sale in Burien and the people who were running the sale knew that the family was in Minidoka. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name, and actually my partner actually picked it up as a gift to me.

The meaning really is that something so beautiful could come out of something so terrible. For the last four or five years I’ve been involved with the pilgrimage to Minidoka, and have just learned so much more about that area and just the experience that that generation had there. And so for me it’s sort of a connection to just that spirit that persevered in the camp.

One thing that I keep thinking about is that lately in the pilgrimage we have been having younger incarcerees come, and a lot of them feel the stories that they have are like happy stories. Like playing with their friends, and having all this free time. And sometimes they feel guilty that this is all they remember, and when I talk to them I understand that feeling, I mean I understand feeling, but also its kind of hopeful that there was something so terrible, to be taken away from your home and locked up behind barbed wire, but that human spirit persevered and they continued trying to make the best of a really horrible situation.

And I guess as a take away I feel like, I hope that people will know the background of the areas where these pieces came from, and the fact that people could create things like this when you’re taken away from the beautiful Puget Sound region to this very desolate place, like desert, and to create something so beautiful from that situation.
Why do I like this piece? Well this is actually one of a few pieces that we actually loan but this one is particularly significant to me because it was the first one. It was after I think I had attended two pilgrimages. I didn’t know, when I had studied about the incarceration experience in college I didn’t even know about these kinds of things, these kinds of arts and crafts actually occurring in the camps. And so after attending the pilgrimage, I think it was maybe the first, I heard about bird pins, and I was like, “What’s a bird pin?”

So when I actually got one I didn’t expect it to actually look this good. I thought it would be something more simple. But it’s so, I mean just all of the layers of paint, and it’s so intricate that it just really resonated with me. That you know, I don’t know, the whole kind of feeling that, I don’t even know if I could create something like this. But the fact that there were people who were taking time and making something like this and obviously keeping busy and creating very functional items like tonsus and painting and trying to make the space liveable.

Because when we go on the pilgrimage and we see, and we talk about what the barracks were like and again being only able to take what you could carry, you know you’re not gonna, well I guess a pin you might take, but you’re not going to be able to carry a dresser, you’re not going to be able to carry your lamp. And people being able to create and make these things to make it more like home, it’s all very important parts of the experience I think and the story.
And having something like this, or collecting something like this kind of makes me feel more connected to that whole experience, and every object has a story.