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 center of this painting stands a woman bending down toward a young girl who is facing her. Both are wearing colorful (yellow and red, respectively) dresses and the girl is wearing boots. The child stretches her right arm toward the woman while her left arm points upward toward structures --a suspension bridge, parts of buildings --that are angled, overlap each other, and are placed within a light blue background.

What appear to be two transparent light beams emanate at an acute angle from the right vertical border of the painting. The angled beams and the angled overlapping buildings simultaneously break up the picture and unite its various elements. In the lower left corner a coiled rattlesnake stretches its head toward the child, while in the lower right corner, a squirrel is sitting on a log viewed end on, an ax resting propped up against the log. A large sunflower stretches along the right vertical border of the picture toward the triangle of the upper right hand corner. In this triangle is the ubiquitous watch tower of Sugimoto's camp paintings, tilted (see "Send Off Husband at Jerome Camp" and "Nisei Babies in Concentration Camp" in this database); a camp building, green trees, and a dark blue-black sky through which a lightning bolts tears vertically.


When Sugimoto and his family first were interned in a "holding" facility in Fresno, California, Madeleine, Sugimoto's daughter, asked her parents when they could all go home. The painting depicts the elements of their lives before and during internment and the lightning bolt that had fractured these lives. California, with its Golden Gate Bridge and Los Angeles courthouse, was Henry Sugimoto's home; Madeleine points toward these structures. The menacing rattlesnake, sunflower, ax, and logs were common in the camps. Mother and daughter reach toward each other, seeking, perhaps, to preserve the stability of their relationship in the face of disruption.

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.