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How does a human respond to inhumanity?

The Noguchi Museum will open Self-Interned, 1942: Noguchi in Poston War Relocation Center on Wednesday, Jan. 18. It will be on display at the Long Island City venue until Jan. 7, 2018.

Consisting of roughly 24 pieces, the show delves into Isamu Noguchi’s mindset during a dark moment in United States history. Seventy-five years ago during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which sanctioned the War Relocation Authority to transfer Japanese and Japanese-American citizens to internment camps.

The directive only applied to residents of Western states, and Noguchi, who lived in New York City at the time, was exempt. However, he voluntarily lived at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona for about seven months. While there, he roamed the desert, experimented with wood, wrote letters to friends, and generally despaired, claiming to feel a spiritual connection to the displaced. But he used his experiences as inspiration to create art, even though he had limited material and utensils.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with sculptures from 1941, the year before Noguchi entered Poston. The earliest work is a bust of actress Lily Zietz from 1941, when Noguchi was making a living by doing portraits. Later in the show, attendees will see Yellow Landscape (1943, below), which lashes out at anti-Asian stereotyping. At the end are pieces created in 1944, the year after he returned to New York City.

Attendees will also be able to peruse related documents, such as a letter the Noguchi wrote to artist Man Ray expressing mental anguish. In another missive, he relates unrest at Poston in a 1943 editorial published in The New Republic.

The show does follow-up with two side-by-side companion installations dating from the 1950s to 1980s that demonstrate Poston’s enduring impact on Noguchi’s emotions. “Gateways” juxtaposes half a dozen of his signature voids, doorways, and doughnut-shaped suns. “Deserts” is a synthesized landscape inspired partly by deserts in the American Southwest.

Plus, the museum will hold a Day of Remembrance on Feb. 19 with free admission and a performance piece, Bend, by artist Kimi Maeda, whose father was interned in Poston.

Front image: Nicholas Knight

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