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Limitation

Hibi, Hisako [ bio ]

Limitation
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painting
H: 20 in, W: 24 in
oil
canvas

Topaz, Utah, June 1944

(96.601.27)

Gift of Ibuki Hibi Lee

Description

Unframed, stretched canvas.

Image in hues of gray, brown and green of two rabbits in an open field with a guard tower separated by fence from mountain in background at Topaz concentration camp, Utah. Rabbit stands on its hind legs, BL, while another feeds in field in foreground. Tower located at midground left next to red rectangular sign on low fence. Image is bisected by dark curved line before the mountains. Flock of birds fly above mountains, left.

Inscription
Signed, LR: Hisako Hibi / June 1944 ; BACK: Topaz Utah War Relocation Camp By Hisako Hibi

History
Entitled "Limitation" this painting seems to refer directly to the fact that the camp perimeters were delineated by a barbed-wire fence. Internees were forbidden to go beyond the fence and were monitored by armed guards who surveyed the area from guard towers. There were times when internees were allowed beyond the fence, but this was only under special circumstances. The fences were superfluous because the camp itself was located a far distance from any town so that there was no real chance of escape. In fact, there are no cases of attempted escape at any of the concentration camps. In this work, Hisako Hibi paints a corner of one end of the camp grounds. In the distance, the low barbed-wire fence is visible with a guard tower at the left. One of the red signs which were placed along the wire fence is present in this painting as well. The signs were warnings, not to people who might approach the camp from the outside, but to the internees themselves. They warned against straying too close to the fence and arousing the suspicion of the guards. One of the most tragic events at Topaz was the killing of an internee for walking too close to the fence. A guard supposedly warned the man, who did not follow his order probably because he was hard of hearing. The guard shot the elderly man who later died. This painting does not directly reference this event, but it is concerned with the confinement of camp and the role of the fence and guard towers. A flight of birds in the left corner is perhaps also a symbol for the desire to be free, to go beyond the camp grounds.

All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from materials in this collection must be submitted to the Collections Management & Access Unit at the Japanese American National Museum (collections@janm.org).

 

 

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