ArtXchange Gallery presents Citizen’s Indefinite Leave, a new series of intricate paper cutaways by Lauren Iida incorporating historical scenes from the unjust incarceration of 126,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the USA during World War II. With the assistance from Seattle-based organization, Densho, Iida was able to dive deeper into her own family’s history and create a narrative exhibition that explores questions of citizenship, belonging and home.
In 2021, Iida was named an Artist-in-Residence with Densho, an organization dedicated to preserving the histories of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. With access to Densho’s vast digital archives and personal assistance from their archivists and historians, as well as her family’s personal collection of photos, Iida created works with references to real places and real people, blending them with surreal painted backgrounds and dreamlike characters that embody the fears, anxieties and hopes of the time.
The narrative thread running throughout Iida’s exhibition is the story of Clara, the older sister of Iida’s grandmother. While investigating her family’s personal archives, Iida came across Clara’s “indefinite leave” pass, giving her early release privileges from Tule Lake, CA where she was incarcerated. On April 21, 1943, Clara embarked on an epic solo journey to join her fiancé in Washington State, where he was working after being sponsored by a white friend.
The artworks in Citizen’s Indefinite Leave pay homage to the struggle of Iida’s grandparents and great-grandparents and explores how the trauma of this era has influenced her own relationship with her Japanese American cultural heritage. Iida writes, “Having been robbed of my cultural heritage by the unjust incarceration of my ancestors, and the subsequent lack of education they were able to offer me as a child, I have had to turn to historical artifacts to learn about my own ethnic roots as an adult, through my own art-making process and research.”
Citizen’s Indefinite Leave runs January 6 through February 19 in ArtXchange Gallery’s North Gallery, coinciding with the Day of Remembrance on February 19, observing the day in 1942 that Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.