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School apologizes for editing Japanese-American internment memorial

The artist was ‘traumatized’ by the unauthorized edits

School officials at Bellevue College have apologized for editing, without the artist’s consent, a political mural that focused on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, with the artist declaring herself “traumatized” by the clumsy censorship of her artwork.

Erin Shigaki, a Seattle-area artist, had created the mural “Never Again is Now” for the college, which featured a depiction of two young Japanese-American children who were incarcerated in an internment camp during the second world war. Around 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent, the majority of them native-born American citizens, were sent to these camps during the war due to fears that they harbored loyalty to Imperial Japan.

Shigaki’s mural is accompanied by a descriptive text that, when installed, noted the involvement of local citizens in helping forcibly relocate Japanese-Americans, many of whom had previously worked farms in the area around Bellevue College. “After decades of anti-Japanese agitation, led by Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and others, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans included the 60 families (300 individuals) who farmed Bellevue,” the text read.

Yet as The Seattle Times reports, several days after the project’s installation, that one passage of the text had been awkwardly erased with white-out:

Last Thursday, professors who helped bring the project to the school were alerted that it had been defaced, according to Professor Leslie Lum…

Bellevue College identified Gayle Colston Barge, vice president of institutional advancement, as the person who removed the reference. Photos show the reference was first whited out, then a laminated description without that sentence was taped over the original placard.

While college spokeswoman Nicole Beattie on Tuesday identified Barge as the administrator, she was not named in President Jerry Weber’s letter of apology sent Monday to the Bellevue College community.

“It was a mistake to alter the artist’s work,” Weber wrote in the letter sent to students and staff. “Removing the reference gave the impression that the administrator was attempting to remove or rewrite history, a history that directly impacts many today … Editing artistic works changes the message and meaning of the work.”

Shigaki told The Times that she felt “traumatized by what happened to my art – to my community’s art – on campus,” adding: “I feel the feelings associated with both sides of my family being forcibly removed from Seattle – erased, unimportant, disregarded, disrespected, shamed.”

The missing sentence has subsequently been “pasted back on top of the whited-out portion.” The Times later reported that Gayle Barge had been placed on administrative leave following the incident.

In the aftermath of the controversy, campus administrations “reminded students that counselors are available for anyone who may need emotional support.”

Read The Times‘s report here.

MORE: Yale cites ‘colonial violence’ in decision to take down censored artwork

IMAGE: funnybear63 / Shutterstock.com

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