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.

In the foreground of this painting, her back to the viewer, a woman waves a handkerchief in farewell to her husband, who wears an army uniform. The children wave goodbye with her as their father turns around to wave back. The road on which the soldier walks is flanked by the barbed wire of the camp, and in the distance stands a watch tower. The woman and her children are separated from the husband/father by a sign that seems suspended in front of them and says in large letters, "STOP." A guard soldier with bayonet stands next to the woman and children, facing them and the viewer with a stern expression on his gray-white face.


The forced separation of people of Japanese ancestry from the rest of America is sharply mirrored in this poignant scene. The disruption of family life by war was common during this period, but there is great irony in this particular situation. Wearing similar uniforms, the young Japanese American soldier and the Caucasian guard operate in vastly different worlds. The former is only "free" to leave the camp if he enlists in the United States army that is fighting to preserve American "freedoms" under threat from Japan and Germany. The guard, on the other hand, represents the police power of the state, which segregates people of Japanese ancestry because they are assumed to be "security risks" and undesirables. Yet the same young men are being recruited for America's Armed Forces.

Sugimoto's story and 133 of his paintings are online at the Online Archive of California Database ( /); a fascinating and informative exhibit has been made available to the archive by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles which holds the original paintings. The museum archive ( provides biographical material and background information for many of the paintings, sometimes quoting from Sugimoto's personal papers, and from "redress" testimony that he gave in 1981 when the U.S. government revisited a shameful episode in American history.


Painted 1943.