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Topaz High Under Construction

Hibi, Hisako [ bio ]

Topaz High Under Construction
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H: 20 in, W: 25 in

Topaz, Utah, Autumn 1943


Gift of Ibuki Hibi Lee


Unframed stretched canvas. Image of a truck with wood in the lower right corner and a man with a wheelbarrow full of wood. They are building a building and there is a mountain and bare trees in the background.

Signed, LL: Hisako Hibi / Autumn 1943 ; BACK: High School Auditorium Under Construction

Tanforan Assembly Center closed in September of 1942 as the approximately 8,000 internees were moved to the Topaz Concentration Camp in Utah. When the internees arrived they found the new camp still under construction. Aside from additional housing barracks and other facilities, buildings for the elementary and high schools remained incomplete. The barracks that were alotted for the schools were unbearable. There was a general lack of furnishings and proper equipment, as well as inadequate lighting; moreover, the buildings did not even have stoves for heating as did the barracks which housed the internees. Thus, as winter approached in the first few months at Topaz, it became clear that it was too cold to conduct classes in these buildings. By December the problems were resolved and classes resumed. The education system as a whole, however, was plagued with difficulties. In particular, finding qualified and able teachers both from outside of Topaz and among the internees became a major problem. This painting by Hisako Hibi makes reference to the construction work on the Topaz High School which Hibi and other internees must have witnessed in the initial weeks at Topaz. The dusty, desert landscape is depicted offering a sense of the barren and drab space that the internees were forced to inhabit. The usual visual landmarks, such as rows of barracks or guard towers do not appear in this painting. Instead, Hibi includes only a small section of the barbed wire fence which surrounded the camp.

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