Tamiko Thiel: Beyond Manzanar

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    Beyond Manzanar


Creation Year:



    Interactive Virtual Reality Installation


    10 feet x 20 feet x 17 feet



Artist Statement:

    Manzanar, an oasis in the high desert of Eastern California, was the first of over ten internment camps erected during World War II to incarcerate Japanese American families solely on the basis of their ancestry. Though this specific instance was ruled unconstitutional in 1988, mass internment of an entire group “in cases of military necessity” is still legal. Ethnic groups whose countries of origin are considered “rogue states” by the American government can legally be interned without trial if tensions between the countries escalate into violence.

    In 1979 during the Iranian hostage crisis, there were physical attacks on Iranian Americans and calls to intern them “like we interned the Japanese.” For an Iranian American, it would be irony indeed to be imprisoned at Manzanar for the “sin” of Iranian ancestry: The site itself is hauntingly reminiscent of the landscapes of Iran. The grid of roads drawn in the desert by the military echoes the geometric order of an Iranian paradise garden – a further irony, for the Japanese Americans did indeed create gardens, their own “virtual reality,” within the barbed wire fences of Manzanar.

    “Beyond Manzanar”, an interactive virtual reality installation, uses the medium’s unique spatial characteristics to “physically” locate you inside the Manzanar Internment Camp. As you explore the camp, visually bounded by three mountain ranges and physically constrained by the barracks and barbed wire fence, your kinesthetic sense is engaged to underscore the emotional impact of confinement. Your eyes see the passes that lead out of the valley, but you stand at the fence and can go no further. Confined within the camp, you have nowhere to go but inwards, into the refuge of memory and fantasy.