"Seagoville Assignment" portrays life in

North Texas internment camp

Interview by Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter
September 10, 2002, 03:32 pm

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Like many children of parents involved in WWII, Kathy Lovas, a photography and visual arts teacher at the University of North Texas in Denton, says her late mother never really talked about her wartime experiences. But she did keep a diary.

Kathy Lovas, artist, art instructor: September 23rd, 1942.

Zeeble: The artist reads from the journal of her mother, who was at the time a 34-year-old newlywed living in Minnesota. She’d recently applied to the government for a civilian job, and was sent to the new Seagoville internment camp.  

Lovas: “To show tonight, with Agnes. When got home, telegram from Mugs. Have to leave right away.” Mugs was her high school friend, who went to Seagoville, to work in the prison, which was a women’s prison at the time. She got her notification. “Very busy, leaving at 9 in the morning…”

Zeeble: Lovas says her mother had never been to Texas before. The young woman’s husband was stationed in Alaska, where they’d married the year before. Lovas says her mother was ready for an adventure.

Lovas: “In the Japanese building today. One noticed my ivory bracelet and we had quite a conversation. Had some of their fried fish.”

Zeeble: The Japanese women and children in Seagoville, who would soon be joined by their husbands from another Texas camp, were mostly from Peru. The U.S. had urged the South American government to transport its Japanese citizens here. Eventually, they were exchanged for U.S. war prisoners, even though the Peruvian Japanese, like interned Japanese-Americans, had broken no laws. Lovas’ art installation is driven in part by that wartime fear and anti-Japanese prejudice the federal government would apologize for decades later. Part of the piece sits on the gallery floor. Rows and columns of 12-inch square, framed black and white finger prints are tied with a rope.

Lovas: You sort of have the association with people. The grid has pieces missing. It’s not exactly like the camp, which was more rigid. The people were kidnapped, basically.

Zeeble: On the wall in front hangs three identical black and white photos of a Japanese mother carrying her days-old infant just before they were deported to Japan. Lovas purposely hides the faces in the picture.

Lovas: This person, these people, stand for more than one person. I don’t want the piece to be about that one person.

Zeeble: Lovas wants viewers to reflect on both past and current events. Because she says, prejudice and racial profiling obviously still exist. Masayo Iwamura understands the artist’s intent. She was the infant in the photo.

Masayo Iwamura, person in the photo: I really appreciate for Kathy to express her feelings and want people to know war, how she feels. I believe many people feel the same way.

Zeeble: Iwamura says she’s well aware of angry war-camp interns whose rights were violated and who feel emotionally scarred. She was too young to remember anything. But growing up in Japan, she says her parents talked of kind Texans in Seagoville. So she visited North Texas as a young woman, and never left. The historic and personal aspects surrounding this work are not explained, says Don Hicks, who helps run the gallery with his wife. But it adds to the piece’s complexity, and explains why the gallery is again showing a Lovas work.

Don Hicks, Handley-hicks Gallery, Co-owner: She makes the personal universal. Here you have fingerprints, probably the most personal item you can imagine. On the other hand, it tells you nothing about that person. It speaks of that whole event where we treat people as objects even though they’re persons.

Zeeble: Hicks says the piece raises questions about human rights during wartime without judging. Kathy Lovas’ “Seagoville Assignment” remains at Fort Worth’s Handley-Hicks gallery through October 12th. For KERA 90.1, I’m Bill Zeeble.

© Copyright 2002, KERA

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