ミネ・オオクボの『市民13660号』に収録されたイラスト

Current Exhibition

Miné Okubo’s Masterpiece: The Art of Citizen 13660
Miné Okubo
Gift of Miné Okubo Estate, 2007.62.557_2

Tenacious and prolific, Japanese American artist Miné Okubo continued perfecting her art even as war intervened twice during the nascent years of her promising career. 

A native of Riverside, Calif., Okubo is acclaimed for Citizen 13660, a book of her 198 drawings revealing life inside a temporary Bay Area detention center and a Utah concentration camp where she was incarcerated with thousands of other Japanese during World War II. It is the first book about the American concentration camp experience by a former prisoner.

In JANM’s exhibition, Miné Okubo’s Masterpiece: The Art of Citizen 13660, Okubo’s expressive vignettes document the camp’s spartan conditions of crammed barracks, perennial long lines, and harsh weather. She also reveals the dejection, resentment, and frequent boredom that engulfed incarcerees. 

Okubo is no mere observer of incarceration. She is Citizen 13660, the government-assigned number for her family, and her illustrations portray a citizenship in turmoil.

Born in 1912, Okubo’s parents were from Japan; her father was a scholar, and her mother was trained as a calligrapher. Her father found work as a gardener, but her mother raised six children, limiting her pursuit of art. This deepened Okubo’s determination as an artist, vowing not to marry, or to “wash someone else’s socks.” 

Okubo earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Art at the University of California, Berkeley. She won a prestigious Bertha Henicke Taussig traveling arts fellowship in 1938 that included studying with Cubist artist Fernand Léger in Paris. But war in Germany disrupted her European travels, and after learning her mother was ill, Okubo returned home. 

In San Francisco, she painted murals under the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project. On one Bay Area project, she worked alongside famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
 
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Executive Order 9066 led to West Coast families of Japanese descent to be incarcerated at remote American concentration camps. Okubo’s large family was split up.

She and a younger brother were sent first to Tanforan detention center, a former racetrack in San Bruno, Calif., where they slept on sacks stuffed with hay, in a horse stall that smelled of manure. Okubo’s sketches documented it all—from the moment they were forced to leave Berkeley with their luggage piled up on the sidewalk, to the indignity of Tanforan.

In May 1942, Okubo and her brother were transferred to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. She would continue to draw thousands of scenes of daily life, teach art classes, and help create Trek, a literary and arts magazine. 

For Okubo, there was no separation of artist and subject. She is in most illustrations with fellow inmates, bearing a shirt of many crosses. Lining up for vaccines and the latrine, shielding themselves from dusty gales, the inmates weather isolation and uncertainty, anxiety and despair.

After her art won praise outside of camp, Fortune magazine hired Okubo to assist with a special issue on Japan. In January 1944, she left Topaz, and with Fortune’s help, relocated to Greenwich Village in New York City. 

Okubo’s work later appeared widely, including Time, Life, and the New York Times, and in renowned museums that drew diverse and influential crowds. She testified before the US Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1981. And in 1984, her most acclaimed work, Citizen 13660, was recognized with the American Book Award. 

Okubo continued to draw and paint until her death in 2001 at 88. 

 

The Miné Okubo Collection

View the 197 drawings by artist Miné Okubo (1912–2001) which served as the basis for her renowned book, Citizen 13660, printed in 1946 and was the first personal account published on the camp experience.

VIEW COLLECTION

August 28, 2021 - February 20, 2022

Japanese American National Museum

100 North Central Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

This year marks the 75th anniversary of artist Miné Okubo’s graphic memoir, Citizen 13660. When it was first published in 1946, it was groundbreaking. Not only was it the first book-length account on America’s concentration camps from the perspective of a former incarceree, but it was also an early example of a graphic memoir. In Citizen 13660, through a series of nearly 200 illustrations, each accompanied by a caption, Miné Okubo captured how World War II and the subsequent incarceration upended her life. 

JANM is uniquely positioned to commemorate the milestone anniversary of this iconic work as a custodian of Miné Okubo’s collection, which includes: myriad sketches that she completed while she was incarcerated at Tanforan and Topaz detention centers, the original drawings that she created for the graphic memoir, as well as a draft of the final manuscript.

For the first time, the materials comprising Miné Okubo’s masterpiece will be exhibited, revealing the art of Citizen 13660.

 

Sponsored by:

  • Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles
  • Freeman Foundation

Media Sponsor: The Rafu Shimpo

#ItsAllMineAtJANM

August 28, 2021 - February 20, 2022

Japanese American National Museum

100 North Central Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90012

This year marks the 75th anniversary of artist Miné Okubo’s graphic memoir, Citizen 13660. When it was first published in 1946, it was groundbreaking. Not only was it the first book-length account on America’s concentration camps from the perspective of a former incarceree, but it was also an early example of a graphic memoir. In Citizen 13660, through a series of nearly 200 illustrations, each accompanied by a caption, Miné Okubo captured how World War II and the subsequent incarceration upended her life. 

JANM is uniquely positioned to commemorate the milestone anniversary of this iconic work as a custodian of Miné Okubo’s collection, which includes: myriad sketches that she completed while she was incarcerated at Tanforan and Topaz detention centers, the original drawings that she created for the graphic memoir, as well as a draft of the final manuscript.

For the first time, the materials comprising Miné Okubo’s masterpiece will be exhibited, revealing the art of Citizen 13660.

 

Sponsored by:

  • Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles
  • Freeman Foundation

Media Sponsor: The Rafu Shimpo

#ItsAllMineAtJANM

RELATED RESOURCES

Kristen Hayashi installing Okubo’s drawings in the exhibition gallery

Behind the Art of Miné Okubo

Sharon Yamato interviewed the curator, Kristen Hayashi, for this article about the exhibition on Discover Nikkei.

READ NOW

Mine Okubo's Masterpiece Activity Guide

Miné Okubo’s Masterpiece Activity Guide

This activity guide, designed to accompany Miné Okubo’s Masterpiece, engages the user with activities and prompts that encourage thoughtful reflection and art making inspired by JANM’s collection of Okubo’s illustrations.

This booklet was created for the in-gallery experience but can be used at home with the museum’s digital repository of Okubo’s work.

Download

Benji Okubo Collection

Benji Okubo Collection

Miné Okubo’s older brother Benji (1904-1975) was also an artist. He moved to Los Angeles in 1928 to attend Otis Art Institute. He was also an active member and leader of the Los Angeles Student Art Institute where he became a student and then colleague of Stanton MacDonald-Wright.

View an online collection of 16 paintings dating from Okubo’s prolific period of the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, including several works created in Heart Mountain concentration camp, Wyoming. While Okubo’s pre-war pieces demonstrate a unique blend of color juxtaposition and surrealism, his works completed in camp are notable for their commentary on militarism, isolation, and political upheaval fused with a mythic sensibility. 

EXPLORE THE COLLECTION

 

Sun, Girl, Cat drawing by Mine Okubo

Nikkei Hero story on Discover Nikkei

A nice story about a student’s appreciation and personal connection to artist Miné Okubo.

Read the Story

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