LOS ANGELES, CA.-
The Japanese American National Museum
will open the traveling exhibition, Gokur?sama: Contemporary Photographs of the Nisei in Hawai‘i, a collection of recent images of Japanese Americans who were born before World War II, on Saturday, February 14, 2009, in its Pavilion in Little Tokyo, and running through May 24, 2009. This exhibition is on loan from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai`i.
Beginning in 2002, photographer Brian Y. Sato began shooting members of the Nisei (American born Japanese American) generation, acutely aware that this important group was passing quickly. Sato managed to shoot more than 70 Nisei from all over the state of Hawai`i. All of the portraits are in black and white.
"I came to the realization that if it was not initiated and completed immediately, the opportunity to document the remaining Nisei generation would be lost forever," said Sato, a Yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American). "The Nisei population is aging, and I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to undertake before it was too late."
Gokur?sama roughly translated from Japanese means, "I appreciate your efforts." The Nisei generation, children of the Issei immigrants who first came from Japan to America in the late 19th and early 20th Century, faced many challenges growing up, including the Great Depression and World War II. Thousands of Nisei men joined the segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought valiantly in Europe, earning numerous Purple Hearts and over 20 Medals of Honor.
After working on his project for five years, visiting local temples and being invited into many homes, Sato unveiled his exhibition at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai`i in 2007. The presentation included oral histories Sato had recorded from his subjects. But, Sato had to overcome a cultural hurdle: many of the Nisei did not want to be photographed.
"A lot of the Nisei, especially the women, refused me," Sato said. "You have to be tactful and persistent, I learned. Some of them eventually acquiesced. Most of them did not! At the risk of stereotyping an entire ethnic generation, it occurs to me that it might not have been easy for these Nisei to agree to have their image captured and preserved for the public to view for generations to come. They did not have easy lives. They lived through turbulent times. The ones that cooperated allowed me, in many cases a perfect stranger, to pry into their past and record their image in perpetuity."
Brian Y. Sato is a professional photographer from Honolulu, Hawai‘i. A graduate of the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Sato has had his work featured in numerous exhibitions—including the Artists of Hawaii at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, CROSSING: France/Hawaii at the Mona Bismark Museum in Paris France, and Tokyo Photographic Culture Center in Tokyo, Japan. His work is also part of the collections at the Hawai‘i State Foundation on the Culture and the Arts, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and private collectors.
"I would be pleased if visitors walk away with perhaps a different view of the Nisei—not merely as their ojiichans (grandfathers) and obaachans (grandmothers), but as role models of the finest kind," said Sato. "We need to all come to the realization that the Nisei represent a non-renewable resource, so to speak, that has to be tapped immediately if we are to benefit from the wisdom of their experiences before they are lost to us forever."