The Beauty in Enormous Bleakness: The Design Legacy of the Interned Generation of Japanese Americans explores architecture’s relationship to issues of immigration, exclusion, and cultural identity in 20th-century America. The exhibition does this through a multi-layered investigation of the lives of Japanese-American designers who survived WWII internment and made vital contributions to the post-war architecture and design landscape of the United States.
Among these designers were four architects: Gyo Obata, Richard Henmi, George Matsumoto, and Fred Toguchi. These designers relocated from West coast exclusion zones to study at Washington University in St. Louis, the only school of architecture to allow students of Japanese heritage to enroll. The project seeks to document and preserve the histories and experiences of some incredibly creative members of the interned generation of Japanese Americans and, in so doing, to expand the public imagination of the cultural legacies and inheritances––positive and negative––of the war.
Given the ongoing efforts to “decolonize” design and reckon with racial violence and white supremacy, this project writes an urgently needed new chapter in design and architectural history that acknowledges the signal contributions of Japanese Americans to post-war culture and cultural life. Visitors are invited to explore the rich and complex cultural landscape of postwar American design, focusing on the exceptional works and experiences of Japanese American designers after WWII.
The exhibition was organized by Kelley Van Dyck Murphy and Heidi Aronson Kolk in collaboration with Lynnette Widder. Special thanks to Makio Yamamoto, Gabi Senno, and Rod Henmi.
Header Image Credit: “Japanese-American Influence on the St. Louis Landscape” by Kelley Van Dyck Murphy/Makio Yamamoto