Feb. 4, 2020

Calgary artist explores social, familial and personal fallout of Japanese Canadian internment

Exhibition first of three in Founders’ Gallery marking 75th anniversary of end of Second World War
Scale model shacks in Ghostown
Scale model shacks in Ghostown, an exhibition by Calgary artist Steven Nunoda. Courtesy Steven Nunoda

The University of Calgary’s Founders’ Gallery at The Military Museums will run three exhibitions this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The first, Ghostown, has a free opening reception on Feb. 6 and features the work of Calgarian Steven Nunoda, a multidisciplinary artist whose thematic, long-term research projects address community displacement.

Ghostown is a quiet, sobering memorial to Japanese Canadian internment camps and their residents, particularly those in the interior of British Columbia where Nunoda’s family were relocated during the Second World War. Addressing social, familial and personal fallout through a large-scale sculptural installation, Nunoda explores questions of culture, memory and community.

The Ghostown project features scale models of the cramped housing built by Japanese Canadian work crews for the internment camps. The installation’s 600-plus tarpaper shacks follow the arrangement used in many of the camps, recalling and memorializing the displacement of some 23,000 persons of Japanese descent.

Many internees were actually Canadian citizens, yet all had their homes, businesses and vehicles confiscated.

Pointing to the relevance of Ghostown, Nunoda notes, “If you go back far enough in history, you’re likely to find somebody from everyone’s family that has experienced something similar.”

Lecture, interpretive exhibit connect to Ghostown 

Nunoda will also present the March 19 Nickle at Noon lecture on main campus in the Taylor Family Digital Library. He will discuss his work and recent participation in the Royal Ontario Museum’s 2019 exhibition Being Japanese Canadian: reflections on a broken world, which featured Ghostown.

Ghostown is supported by an interpretive exhibit organized by Founders' Gallery curatorial co-ordinator Dick Averns. This component includes heritage objects from Nunoda’s family, large-scale images of internment life sourced from the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, and military records.

Averns’s role highlights valuable connections to Ghostown as his interpretive exhibition draws on collections at The Military Museums including the 10th Battalion and 50th Battalion – both had Japanese Canadians fighting for Canada in WW I.

“There is little doubt that in a conflicted 21st century, the topics raised here are highly relevant,” says Averns.

Deployed as an official war artist with the Canadian Forces Artists Program, Averns will present the April 9 Nickle at Noon lecture on main campus entitled 75 Years On: Revisiting WWII Through Extant Art.

Programming in Founders’ Gallery explores human conflict worldwide through projects by local, international, historic and contemporary artists that challenge viewers’ knowledge of and interaction with war. Founders’ Gallery works closely with departments and faculties at the University of Calgary, other galleries within The Military Museums and the community in general to promote discourse, learning, research and discovery.

Founders’ Gallery as well as the Library and Archives at The Military Museums is operated by the University’s Libraries and Cultural Resources.

Ghostown is on view until April 13.

Opening reception – Artist in attendance

Thursday, Feb. 6

  • 5:30 p.m. – Exhibition tour with Founders’ Gallery curatorial co-ordinator Dick Averns
  • 6:30 p.m. – Program
  • 9 p.m. – Close

The Military Museums of Calgary is located at 4520 Crowchild Trail, S.W.