Marc Stirdivant Scholarship Winners

2023 - Kai Strahl Sugahara

My picture demonstrates the forced and devastating stripping away of cultural identity that Japanese and Japanese American people faced when being imprisoned in internment camps. The woman in the fading kimono symbolizes how Japanese culture in America had to be hidden and secreted away during that shameful time in our nation. The woman’s kimono as well as the young boy’s and man’s personal clothing items are melting away into cherry blossom petals floating up to the moon. In Japanese culture, the moon represents timelessness and enlightenment, and in my piece, the moon is receiving everything the people being forced into the camps are losing and keeping it safe in the moon’s timelessness. This adds magical realism that represents the internal strengths of the detainees and their irrepressible internal devotion to their culture. In other words, while physical items can be destroyed and forcibly removed, the beloved and sacred values, traditions, and beliefs of Japanese culture could not be destroyed by detainment.

The chains are a visual reminder of the violence and inhumanity of Japanese people being forcibly put into detention centers. The chains are wrapping around the subjects in this drawing like snakes constricting their prey. And it was very hard to “stop the chains from pulling them in” hence the young boy struggling to break free but to no avail. This represents the impossibility of escape.

I attempted to make the setting of my piece very similar to actual photos available of the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. From the mountains surrounding it to the oak trees, from the tall fence to the dry, desolate grounds, there is historic accuracy paired with my artistic style.

An important aspect of my piece is that almost everything is radiating some kind of color. The barrock is giving off a shadowy, ominous color, while the people are giving off a light, pure color showing that they have done no wrong.

Also seen in my picture are oak trees with a slight glow around them. This symbolizes how today, only the oaks remain at the Tuna Canyon Detention Station. They hold the memories of the injustice and discrimination that occurred there. The glowing around them is them absorbing those disheartening yet important memories; “a reminder of the importance of social justice for all.”

The power of this piece is the unification of the various elements. There is the sadness and loss of the three individuals whose body language reflects their innocence. That imagery next to their dissolving clothing emphasizes the deep injustice of what was happening. The moon having to receive and guard their losses (because there were no loved ones free to take on that role) reflects the devastating isolation of detention while also reinforcing the innocence of the detainees – nature is pure. Lastly, the chains and the darkness of the camp make it clear that this is a scary, unwelcoming setting of profound wrong-doing. The overall intent is to create in the viewer an emotional response as they recognize the great personal loss, deep moral failure, and inexcusable inhumanity tied to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station; so that we collectively ensure that such a travesty never occurs again.

2021 and 2022