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More Examples of Issei Clothing from Barbara Kawakami Collection to be Rotated into Displays

The Japanese American National Museum announced that its new exhibition, Textured Lives: Japanese Immigrant Clothing from the Plantations of Hawai`i, will extend its exhibition run through August 22 rather than closing at the end of May. The exhibition opened on February 27.

The exhibition is composed entirely of artifacts from the Barbara Kawakami Collection. Kawakami, who was raised on an Oahu sugar plantation and had a successful career as a dressmaker, became the foremost expert on the clothing worn by the early Issei (Japanese immigrant) generation who arrived in Hawai`i in the 1880’s to work in the sugar plantation fields. Kawakami enrolled in college at the age of 53 in the 1970s and began to study this chapter of history. Eventually she went on a personal crusade to capture the stories and collect the clothing of the pioneering Issei, whose generation had almost vanished.

Kawakami discovered the immigrant generation brought little in the way of possessions, so their garments were among their only material goods from their homeland. The Japanese women, in particular, refashioned even their traditional kimono for the arduous work conditions on the plantations. But as Kawakami documented, the remade clothing also expressed in their new handmade apparel their culture and identity.

"The National Museum is pleased to extend the exhibition run for Textured Lives," stated the institution’s President & CEO Akemi Kikumura Yano. "Barbara Kawakami’s efforts to preserve part of the Issei story through their oral histories and their clothing have come to fruition with this exhibition. Her collection is remarkable, with 260 different items. By extending the exhibition, we now have the opportunity to rotate more objects into the display and let the public share in Barbara’s heroic efforts to document this important story."

The exhibition examines the difficulties for the newcomers in dealing with the harsh life on the plantations while hoping to marry and start families. It provides examples for how the Issei adapted their clothing for their new lives and how the Japanese took ideas and styles from the other workers from Puerto Rico and China, among others. The exhibition touches on the major cultural questions, including how they carried on their traditions of marriage and funerals so far away from Japan.

Major support for Textured Lives was generously provided by The Hiroaki, Elaine & Lawrence Kono Foundation. Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Nippon Foundation, Aratani Foundation, and the members of the Japanese American National Museum. Media sponsors are LA 18, the Los Angeles Downtown News and the Rafu Shimpo.

The Japanese American National Museum is the only national nonprofit museum dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the Japanese American experience as an integral part of U.S. history. Founded in 1985, it has welcomed new audiences through its exhibitions, public programs and special events.