Dorothea Lange: The War Relocation Authority Assignment

Image by Dorothea Lange, Waiting for Registration, 1942Dorothea Lange, Waiting for Registration, San Francisco, 1942, Silver Gelatin Print, 22 × 17 inches

The John Young Museum of Art, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, is proud to present for the first time in Hawai‘i the exhibition Dorothea Lange: The War Relocation Authority Assignment. The exhibition will be on view February 7 – May 14, 2021.

Dorothea Lange worked for the federal government to document the relocation and internment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Unlike her much better-known work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) which took place in the 1930s, these images were commissioned by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the government agency with which Lange sustained a critical relationship. In 1942 Lange took some 800 images that documented the loss of civil liberties and property, followed by the  confinement that affected the generations of nissei- and sansei- Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned through no act of their own, but because of their Japanese ancestry. Deposited in the National Archives, these images were among Lange’s least-known photographs and went largely unnoticed until 1972, when 27 of them were included in a book published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. Since then, they have quietly become defining documents in the history of immigrant rights in America.

Born in Hoboken, NJ, Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) is a central figure in the history of American photography. Her photographs White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco (1933) and Migrant Mother (1936) are among the best-known works of American art. Her books, An American Exodus, 1939 (with Paul S. Taylor), and Land of the Free, 1938, are important documents in the struggle for labor rights. She was the first female photographer to receive a Guggenheim grant, awarded in 1941 for her work for the FSA on farm laborers. Lange was a founding member of the enormously important Aperture magazine in 1952. Her work appears in most major museums.

Thanks to Tim Chambers and Anchor Editions. Anchor Editions’ sale of prints benefits the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the National Immigration Law Center.

The exhibition is organized for the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa by Maika Pollack and made possible by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s Department of Art & Art History and College of Arts, Languages, & Letters; the John Young Foundation; the Cooke Foundation; Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, through appropriations from the Legislature of the State of Hawai’i and by the National Endowment for the Arts; and anonymous donors.

The JOHN YOUNG MUSEUM OF ART is located in Krauss Hall at 2500 Dole Street Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822 (Directions).

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