Japanese-American artists foregrounded by the Archives of American Art to mark Asian-Pacific American Heritage month this May

The late artist Ruth Asawa (photographed in 1973) is one of the artists profile in The Archives of American Art's focus on Asian Pacific American artists this month Mimi Jacobs

To commemorate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in the US, the Archives of American Art has launched a focus honouring the legacy and influence of Japanese-American artists who were among the more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans incarcerated in internment camps in the US during the Second World War.

The multi-platform initiative—which is available through social media, weekly newsletters and the archives blog—includes poignant and rarely-seen documents related to artists such as Ruth Asawa and Miné Okubo. Some materials include a recorded 2002 interview in which Asawa explains how she coped with the isolation of being in an internment camp in Arkansas, and how the experienced influenced her practice, and more than 2,000 sketches Okubo made during her incarceration at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah.

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month marks two pivotal dates in Asian-American history: the arrival of Japanese immigrants in the US on 7 May 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on 10 May 1869, an industrial feat built with significant labour from immigrant Asian workers. The memorial “presented the opportunity to raise the visibility of these artists represented in our collection”, says Liza Kirwin, the interim director of the Archives of American Art.

In the coming weeks, the initiative will feature posts about the artists Patti Warashina, Reuben Tam, Val Laigo, Miye Matsukata, Kamekichi Tokita, Jun Kaneko and Kay Sekimachi.

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