Exhibit At Four Freedoms Park Explores Meaning of Freedom From Fear

April 8, 2019

“I think it is essential that we, as Americans, not take our freedoms for granted,” explains artist Setsuko Winchester about her Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project. “Part of that process is to examine how we attain them, but also to examine how they can be taken away.” The Yellow Bowl Project will be displayed at FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island’s southern tip from April 12- April 14. Winchester will lead an artist's led talk artist-led talk and tour of the exhibition on April 14 at the park at 2:00pm.

 

The exhibit of 120 tea bowls, glazed in various shades of yellow, examines racial and cultural stereotypes during WWII, and the relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans following FDR’s Executive Order 9066, that authorized the relocation and detention of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan in 1942. Winchester points out that despite also being at war with Germany and Italy, no German-Americans or Italian-Americans were detained or mass incarcerated.  

 "The fact that the tea bowls look very large compared to their surroundings In many of my images is a play on a popular internet meme of photographing the same object in different locations as I explain on my website but it is also a commentary on the power of the media and how it had helped generate much fear at the time by portraying this group of Americans and the threat they represented as much larger than they were in reality." Setsuko Winchester

 

Winchester calls her exhibit “Yellow Peril,” a racist color-metaphor. “I wanted to contrast, the symbolism of tea,” that she explains is important in Japanese culture “with this racist trope to remind other Americans that no American of Japanese ethnicity was ever found guilty of any act of treason or espionage.”

 

The bowls themselves range in size from very tiny ones that would fit about two or three tablespoons full of tea, to larger ones that require both palms to hold. The goal was to demonstrate that they represent real people in all of their uniqueness. “[T]he small ones representing babies or children, the larger ones representing their parents, grandparents or older siblings. The differences in shade, shape and size is also meant to signify the fact that they were individuals: there were farmers, shopkeepers, doctors, dentists, carpenters, teachers, gardeners, painters, sculptors, musicians, bankers, etc…and they differed in religious beliefs as well, some Buddhists, some Shinto…many were Christian.”

 

The bowls have been exhibited in a variety of places, including the ten concentration camps, officially called "relocation centers," that were built and run by the US military for US citizens of Japanese ethnicity. Over 70 percent of the imprisoned Japanese were American citizens. The people put in these prisons were not charged with any wrong-doing; the only reason someone would be put in one of these camps was if you had as little as 1/16 Japanese blood.   

 

When Winchester and her husband visited these camps, located in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas, she realized how rare this trip was. She said, “First of all, not many Americans even know the existence of most of them. Two, even those who were imprisoned or had a relative that had been incarcerated, had only visited the camps in which they or their relatives had been held. I think visiting them all was crucial to my understanding of just how complex the situation had become and still is for many to understand today.”

 

The former journalist believes her intended message is one that words can’t accurately convey. She says, “As a journalist, I realized that part of the obstacle to understanding what happened in America back in the 1940’s was the language. After much research, it became clear that the continued use of government euphemisms and war propaganda or war related politics which continues 75 years later, impedes the honest assessment of the true facts of the situation. In order to avoid these traps, I decided to try to show what happened rather than tell it with inadequate words.”   

 

This isn’t the first time she has displayed her work at the park. Winchester first brought her yellow tea bowls to the Park in January 2016. “From that first visit, it was a project that we always hoped we could bring back to the Park in a more formalized way, so that the public could engage and interact with the larger themes surrounding the installation," said Madeline Grimes, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Park. Winchester adds the question – very relevant today; “In a multicultural society, what does an American or even an innocent immigrant do if you look like the enemy?”

 

“We felt that presenting it during the popular Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom gave us a unique opportunity to talk about a marginalized chapter in American history,” said Grimes. Winchester agrees.

 

“My project asks, what does Freedom from Fear really mean and who was it meant to protect? In 1942, it was clearly not meant for someone who looked like me.  But more importantly, fear is a powerful emotion. How does a nation free people from fears that are tied to an emotional truth rather than a rational one? Were Japanese Americans really that alien and unassimilable that white people needed them all to be rounded up and taken away to feel happy and safe? Is 75 years enough time to take an honest and brave look at the source of yesterday’s fears…and by extension perhaps take a clear-eyed look at our fears today? What will we find? I promise that I am not that scary.   Neither were these people."


I can think of no better place than here for this quintessentially American story to be displayed, shared and examined.”

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