Whispered Silences: Japanese American Detention Camps, Fifty Years Later (exhibition)


Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) exhibition that featured photographs of former Japanese American concentration camp sites shot during the 1980s by artist Joan Myers. Debuting in 1995, the exhibition traveled around the country for the next four years. It was accompanied by a book published by the University of Washington Press titled Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II, which includes her photographs along with Gary Okihiro's historical/autobiographical overview of Japanese American history.

The origin of the project stemmed from Myers stumbling across the Manzanar site while on a family vacation in 1981. Intrigued by the site and what remained there from the time of the incarceration, she returned a year later with her 4 x 5 camera and arranged to visit the other War Relocation Authority camp sites over the next few years. As the granddaughter of Henry Wallace, the vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time of World War II, she felt a familial connection to the story.

The exhibition consisted or forty-four of Myer's black and white prints of the camp sites and of objects found at the sites taken between 1982 and 1985, with exhibition text—often including first person accounts by incarcerated Japanese Americans—by Okihiro. Whispered Silences premiered in December 1995 at the SITES Introductory Gallery at the Ripley Center on the mall in Washington, D.C. before beginning its travels. Hosting institutions included the Japanese American National Museum (May 3 to September 14, 1997), the San Diego Museum of Photographic Art, and California State University, Sacramento.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Okihiro, Gary. Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II. Photographs by Joan Myers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Whispered Silences at Joan Myers website. http://www.joanmyers.com/Whis.htm.