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Healing Nature: Photography by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Toyo Miyatake Explores the Power of Gardens

Photo by Dorothea Lange courtesy of Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

(PORTLAND, Ore) October 30, 2020 – Portland Japanese Garden presents art exhibition, “Healing Nature: Gardens and Art of Manzanar” opening Saturday, October 31. The exhibition examines the gardens and art at Manzanar Relocation Center through the lens of three leading twentieth-century photographers to reveal the resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness of Japanese American internees during World War II.

“Today, in the face of the many political and cultural challenges, there is need for cross-cultural understanding in communities around the world,” says Aki Nakanishi, Portland Japanese Garden’s Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education. “We hope to facilitate peacemaking and intercultural understanding through programs like this.”

The exhibition highlights gardens created by the Japanese Americans incarcerated at Manzanar Relocation Center in the Owens Valley of California. It is estimated that at one point, there were more than 100 gardens at Manzanar and studies suggest that all 10 of the camps had gardens as well. While a concentration camp in the high desert is an unlikely place for any garden, the imprisoned community built these gardens as a way to find a sense of normalcy under harsh conditions, add beauty and hope to the desolate landscape, and assert their Japanese heritage.

Relocation Center, 1943

Each photographer offers a different perspective to the exhibition. Lange, a documentary photographer, was on assignment through the War Relocation Authority and captured raw emotion of Japanese Americans as they were being sent to or arriving at camp. Adams, whose parents’ longtime employee faced incarceration, came nearly a year later and provided a more personal glimpse from the outside in. Miyatake was an internee who risked his life by smuggling in a camera lens to document life from within, so that history wouldn’t repeat itself. All three captured profound moments of life in the face of civil injustice.

Portland Japanese Garden was established in 1963 on the heels of World War II to provide the citizens of Portland with a garden of great beauty while rebuilding their connection to Japan. Inspired by its own history and in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, Portland Japanese Garden is honored to host an exhibition that provides a look into the past to create a better future.

“Healing Nature: Gardens and Art of Manzanar” will be at Portland Japanese Garden through January 18, 2021.

Language Matters: There is no universal agreement on what we call the camps or the process that created them — ‘incarceration,’ ‘internment,’ and ‘concentration’ are a few of the terms that were interchangeably used. While some might find ‘concentration’ misleading because these were not extermination camps, the term predates the Holocaust and is by definition a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard. We believe that awareness of the historical import of these words, as well as care in using them, is an important way to respect the collective memory of the victims and grants us greater power to confront injustice and cultivate peace.

“A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned, not because of the crimes they committed, but simply because of who they are. During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Despite the difference, all had one thing in common: that people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.” – Joint Statement by Japanese-American National Museum and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors at the 1994 exhibition, America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience