G. Funo O'Kain

Untitled (Look Back at You 1, Detail, photo on historic marker, San Jose Nihonmachi, photo courtesy Masuo Akizuki. An unidentified woman boards a bus, departing Heart Mountain, May 1943)


Think of this site as a repository for ongoing art projects: works I make as I spend the year visiting former WWII American concentration camps for people of Japanese ancestry.

Broadly, this work is about longing and land, memory and mythology, about ancestors, itinerancy and ersatz time travel. Specifically, this work is about my own family and their unlawful forced removal from the West Coast.

Here you will find images, writing, and references to historical and contemporary influences.

I employ a variety of mediums including sculpture, found objects, textiles, and photographs; I make site-responsive and site-informed works.

This site is organized in the following way:

Field Notes comprises notes on and images of the travels and research that contribute to my studio practice.

The Projects page puts works into categories.

Please note that the categories of projects are not fixed. They exist primarily as a way to organize this website. Themes overlap; ideas and motifs spill from one project into another.

A note about terminology and caring for each other's histories:

This chapter of Japanese American history is often characterized by misleading and euphemistic language.

In telling my own family's stories I make an effort to reject euphemistic terminology. I acknowledge that debates continue, and that language, like understanding, is a work in progress.

The differentiation between words such as "incarceration" and "internment," and my decision to use the term "American concentration camp" instead of "relocation center" or "incarceration camp" are informed by guidance on terminology provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, by the Densho statement on terminology, by The National JACL Power of Words Handbook and by arguments that are explored in this NPR article, and an article from the UCLA Newsroom in 2015. By using the term "American concentration camp" when referring to these sites, my aim is to reject euphemistic language and to make a clear distinction between the human-rights violations that took place on American soil, and the atrocities that took place in concentration camps in other parts of the world, including the Nazi concentration camps and killing centers.

The statement below can be found in context here (pages 12-13). It was co-authored in 1994 by the Japanese American National Museum and seven American Jewish organizations. Today, I argue that we can add more examples to the list of countries that use concentration camps but the spirit of the statement remains a model that exemplifies for me what it means to honor each other's histories; to clarify what sets them apart; and to remind us of the horror of the most egregious acts therein:

"A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not
because of any crimes they committed, but simply because of who
they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such
persecution throughout history, the term ‘concentration camps’
was first used at the turn of the century in the Spanish American
and Boer Wars.
During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly
distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Nazi camps were places of
torture, barbarous medical experiments, and summary executions;
some were extermination centers with gas chambers. Six million
Jews and many others including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals, and
political dissidents were slaughtered in the Holocaust.
In recent years, concentration camps have existed in the former
Soviet Union, Cambodia, and Bosnia.
Despite the difference, all had one thing in common: the people in
power removed a minority group from the general population and
the rest of society let it happen."

A note about the Gila River American Concentration Camp: This site is located on private property belonging to the Gila River Indians, If you wish to visit the Gila River site, please contact info@gilariver.org.

A note about traveling responsibly during Covid-19: The projects here are largely site-responsive works. Please note that all travel has been conducted by car, alone or with my husband only. Social-distancing protocols have been observed, meetings are conducted online or outdoors as much as possible; when sharing indoor space is unavoidable (such as at highway rest stops or on rare occasions when access to archives is granted) I always wear a mask; I tent camp as much as possible. Indoor accommodation is only used where complete self-isolation is possible.

Land acknowledgments are made and updated using guidance on the Whose Land resource. Please contact me directly if you want to offer feedback or to make suggestions.

All views expressed on this website are my own.