Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment

Chiura Obata's art of the internment

Chiura Obata was one of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans forcefully relocated from their homes, work, and communities to the stark barracks of desert internment camps during World War II. As an artist faithfully recording the world around him, Obata’s work from this period gives us a view into the camps that is at once honest and strikingly lyrical.

Topaz Moon brings together more than 100 paintings and sketches from Obata’s internment period, from the stables at Tanforan, California, to the barracks in Topaz, Utah. Edited by his granddaughter Kimi Kodani Hill, these images are accompanied by a text that draws heavily upon the letters of Obata and his wife, Haruko, family documents, and interviews with family and friends.

A project of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program


“In 1942 much was summarily taken from Japanese Americans: their liberty, their property, their right to equal protection under the law. No one, however, could take from them their integrity, their family unity, their capacity to prevail, or, as this book shows, their ability to bear witness through the prisms of memory and art to what was being done to them. Here now, from one master artist, are the on-the-scene images of isolation and loneliness—and the special transcendence that comes when beauty points to a larger hope.”

—Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California

About the Artist and Author

Kimi Kodani Hill is the granddaughter of Chiura Obata, and the Obata family historian. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the California College of Arts and Crafts, she has served as the consultant for numerous Obata projects and exhibits. She is the editor of Shades of California: The Hidden Beauty of Ordinary Life and Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of the Internment.
Chiura Obata (1885-1975) was born in Japan and came to California in 1903. A master in the traditional Japanese sumi ink and brush technique, he also excelled in art education and taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1932 until 1954, except for his years of internment. Other works were previously published in the book Obata’s Yosemite (Yosemite Association, 1993).