Japanese American artist, Henry Sugimoto, depicted life in the Arkansas internment camps into which he and his entire family (including wife and child) and many others of Japanese descent were forced, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Sugimoto's life and his painting were profoundly influenced by his incarceration experience during World War II. During and after this period his subject changed from landscapes to scenes of camp life and the Japanese emigration/immigration experience; these works often had social and political purpose.

This painting is bleak, almost colorless, with its shades of gray and beige; the sky is cloudy. In the foreground there appears to be a marshy area, with water, wooden boards strewn about, and tall grass at the water's edge. Barracks stretch behind the marsh, on either side of a narrow road, the repetitive monotony reinforced by telegraph poles that line one side of the road. There are no people or animals in sight and the only vegetation detectable, besides marsh grass, is the sketchy outline of tree tops in the distance.


This drab, depressing scene is the context for internment life at Camp Jerome. As such it provides a useful accompaniment to other Sugimoto paintings of the camp experience (see for example, Send Off Husband at Jerome Camp annotated in this database). Sugimoto told an interviewer that he used to go to the edge of the camp and try to imagine the Arkansas landscape beyond. For this artist, who had been a landscape painter prior to his incarceration, the camp environment must have been particularly demoralizing.

See also the Online Archive of California Database ( where a fascinating and informative exhibit on Henry Sugimoto and his work has been made available by the Japanese American National Museum. The museum archive ( provides biographical material and background information for many of Sugimoto's paintings, sometimes quoting from his personal papers, and from "redress" testimony that he gave in 1981 when the U.S. government revisited the shameful internment episode.


Painted 1943.

Primary Source

Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience. Kristine Kim, Lawrence M. Small, Karin Higa (Introduction), Emily Anderson (Translator), Madeleine Sugimoto (Epilogue). (Berkeley: Heyday Books, in conjunction with the Japanese American National Museum, 2001).