Columbia University, 1947. Second Printing.
Chipped jacket at tail of spine.
War internee and artist, Miné Okubo is well known for her representations of daily life and humanity. She is most famous for her drawings depicting Japanese and Japanese American internment during World War II.
Okubo’s father was a scholar and her mother was a calligrapher who graduated with an honors degree from the Tokyo Art Institute. However, in the US, Okubo’s father worked first at a candy shop, and then as a gardener and landscaper. Her mother was a housewife and had little time for her art work. However, her mother encouraged Okubo to pursue her interest in art.
Okubo attended Riverside Junior College in 1931. She gained a scholarship to study art at the University of California Berkeley and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in art in 1935. Okubo continued studying at Berkeley and completed a Master of Arts degree in art and anthropology the following year. While attending university, Okubo held a series of different jobs to earn a living. She worked as a seamstress, maid, farm laborer, and tutor.
Okubo began working with the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. In this role, Okubo worked on a number of mural projects, including those at the Oakland Hospitality House and Fort Ord. During the period 1940-1941, she also curated two exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which showcased the artwork that she produced while studying in Europe on a Bertha Taussig Traveling Art Fellowship.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in 1942, which banned people of Japanese descent from living on the West Coast. Okubo and her family were forced to vacate their home and were separated for relocation. Okubo and another brother were sent to the Tanforan relocation center, a former racetrack, in San Bruno, California. They shared a 20’ x 9’ horse stall that smelled of manure, and they were forced to sleep on sacks made of hay. They were later transferred to the Topaz internment camp in Utah.
Despite the difficult living conditions, Okubo continued to pursue her art. In conjunction with Berkeley art professor Chiura Obata and other fellow artists, who were also detained, Okubo helped to found the Tanforan Art School and later the Topaz Art School. At both locations, Okubo taught art lessons to children, adults, and senior citizens. She worked as an illustrator for the Topaz Times. Okubo also helped produce Trek, a literary magazine that was created at Topaz. She drew the covers for the magazine and acted as its art editor.
While Okubo was in the internment camp, she made over 2,000 drawings in charcoal, watercolor, pen, and ink, depicting her everyday experiences. Often these drawings showed her observations of women and children in the camp.
Following her confinement, Okubo relocated to New York and was encouraged to compile her drawings into a book about her experience as an internee in the relocation camps in California and Utah. The graphic novel, Citizen 13660, published in 1946, contains 206 drawings from her time in the camps. It was the first published account of the experience from an internee and documents the struggles and achievements of the Japanese & Nisei community as internees at the camps. The title refers to the number assigned to her family unit by the US government during her internment, the book contains over two hundred of her pen and ink sketches accompanied by brief explanatory text.
Okubo promoted her graphic novel as “the first and only documentary story of the Japanese evacuation and Relocation written and illustrated by one who was there.” Citizen 13660 launched her career and is her only published novel, as she considers herself first and foremost a painter and teaching artist. Okubo’s simplistic line drawings and neutral narration provides the reader with a unique perspective on the historical record of the internment.