Asian Art Museum Reflection by Brent Beavers

By Brent Beavers (Common MA – GTU, Chaplaincy – Institute of Buddhist Studies)

I went to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco with my classmates from Buddhism and the West (Institute of Buddhist Studies, Graduate Theological Union) to watch a special exhibition in commemoration of the Japanese internment during WWII and to see the comprehensive collection in residence.  The museum exhibited the video poem “When Rabbit Left the Moon” by Emiko Omori to highlight the 75th anniversary of this tragic event in U.S. history.  Through a montage of archival images and contemporary footage we were presented with the diametrically opposed conditions of Japanese family life in middle-America and then the subsequent conditions born of group incarceration.

Forced to imagine rooting up my entire existence in the matter of a day, condensing it into a knapsack, only to be carted off like a feed-lot animal, conjured up for me the sense of disbelief, bewilderment, outrage, injustice and forsaken humanity.

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The juxtaposition of all these emotions and incongruent images were made all the more indelible by the contemporaneous footage of crushed white dishware piled up in the wind-swept sands of the dessert, like deposited shells on an ocean floor.  Some of the forgotten remnants of this event are only a days’ drive from the comfort of our “liberal” Bay Area homes. A discordant reminder of how temporary our security can be within the very community of our fellow citizens, I can’t help but think of current fear mongering and how fine the line can become between our “enemies” abroad and our “enemies” next door.  Many amongst those whom ended up in these camps were naturalized or natural born citizens as well as immigrants.

The human spirit was captured by photos of interred communities “breaking bread” together in the collective engagement of food preparation, holiday celebration and religious gathering. We humans have an unrelenting fortitude when we’re in community, regardless of the conditions. I was reminded of this creativity and endearment as I toured the four floors of the museum whose galleries represent thousands of years of humanity.

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Under what duress or bliss did these pieces of art and artifacts come to be or come to be buried?  The vast geographical space and time represented by this collection up to our modern era speaks to the ever changing yet ever inter-connected nature of our existence. We have a choice in how we treat each other and how we respond to difficult challenges.  What artifacts will we leave behind and what story will these artifacts tell about our understanding and state of compassion in a multi-cultural world of plurality?

GTU faculty members are encouraged to apply for CARe/GTU Arts Enrichments Grants to help integrate the arts into their courses. Funds may be used for field trips to a museum, concert, performance, or other arts event. View past grant awardees like Scott Mitchel and his Buddhism and the West course online.