On the body / Scholar and author Barbara Kawakami brings the most significant collection of Issei (first generation Japanese) immigration and plantation clothing in the world to Bishop Museum, and the opening day for the exhibition is this Saturday. Sept. 15.
In a colorful display of 19th Century though 20th Century textiles and hand-painted and intricately woven kimono, pre-war plantation clothing, as well as rare oral histories, moving images and photographs, this exhibition gives voice and body to the fabric of Hawaii’s Japanese immigrants.
Kawakami was born in 1921 in Okkogamura, Kumamoto, Japan, and was raised from infancy on the Oahu Sugar Plantation in Waipahu. A dressmaker for 38 years, Kawakami’s education ended, as did that of many immigrants, in the eighth grade, though years later she earned her G.E.D, a B.S. in textiles and clothing, and a Master’s degree in Asian studies–after the age of 50.
“Textured Lives: Japanese Immigrant Clothing from the Plantations of Hawaii” includes 15 years worth of interviews (250 of them to be exact) describing memories of the struggles of immigration and the harsh conditions of working and living a plantation life.
“It is a journey that has not only taught me a great deal about the clothing worn by the Issei,” says Kawakami, “but also helped me to understand their struggle to survive and the relationship between their old traditions and the new plantation culture.”