Miné Okubo Collection

Drawings and paintings by Miné Okubo, a Japanese American artist, created while incarcerated during World War II in California and Utah; and postwar in New York City, New York.

Mine with open newspaper, surrounded by anti-Japanese slogans, Berkeley, California, 1941 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

75 Years Later: 1946 to 2021

In 1946, artist Miné Okubo published Citizen 13660, an illustrated memoir that captured her experience of being detained in America’s concentration camps during World War II. Okubo became the first former incarceree to publish a memoir of the incarceration.

Mine and Toku sharing a small meal, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno, California, 1942 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Comprising nearly 200 drawings and accompanying captions, Citizen 13660 depicted daily life at Tanforan detention center in San Bruno, California and Topaz concentration camp in central Utah from Okubo’s perspective.

Movement against registration by pro-Japanese camp leaders, Central Utah Relocation Project, Topaz, Utah, 1942-1944 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Through humor and irony, pathos and satire, Okubo created an important visual and historical record that conveyed the incarceration experience in a way that cameras could not.

Mine and Toku standing with their luggage, Berkeley, California, 1942 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Miné Okubo was born in Riverside, California in 1912. She and several of her siblings pursued art, influenced by their mother’s training at an art institute in Tokyo. Okubo received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in art at the University of California, Berkeley.

Harvesting potatoes at farm near Berne, Switzerland, 1939 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

After graduating, Okubo received a prestigious traveling art fellowship in Europe where she continued to study and paint. Once war began in Europe in 1939, Okubo returned to the U.S. early. She found work with the Federal Arts Project with muralist Diego Rivera in San Francisco.

Listening to radio announcement of bombing of Pearl Harbor, with brother Toku, Berkeley, California, 1941 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Soon, though, her career was turned upside down following a declaration of war on Japan, when in February 1942, Executive Order 9066 created an exclusionary zone on the West Coast and laid the groundwork for the forced removal of Japanese and Japanese Americans. 

Cooking in barracks, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno, California, 1942 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Okubo and one of her younger brothers were incarcerated first at Tanforan in San Bruno, California and later at Topaz, Utah. She continued to draw incessantly while incarcerated, producing thousands of sketches that captured daily life.

Boarding the bus to leave camp, Central Utah Relocation Project, Topaz, Utah, 1942-1944 (1942-1944) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Okubo was released in 1944 and resettled in New York. She continued to dedicate her life to art: teaching, working as an illustrator, and painting. She died in 2001 at the age of 88.

[Untitled] (1978) by Mine OkuboJapanese American National Museum

Portions of Mine Okubo's vast personal and professional collection were donated to the Japanese American National Museum, including the manuscript of Citizen 13660, personal correspondence and wartime documents, and many artworks.

[Untitled], Mine Okubo, 1970, From the collection of: Japanese American National Museum
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[Untitled], Mine Okubo, 1969, From the collection of: Japanese American National Museum
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[Untitled], Mine Okubo, ca. 1968-1977, From the collection of: Japanese American National Museum
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Samples of just three of the many colorful artworks created by Mine Okubo, postwar, in New York City.  She loved vibrant colors, and often included cats, children, and women in her artwork.

Credits: Story

Text, images, and video by JANM Collections Management and Access department staff.  To license, publish, or reproduce any of these images, please contact JANM.  For research access and further information on the Miné Okubo collection, please visit JANM's page on the Online Archive of California. For the past exhibition at JANM, please visit Mine Okubo's Masterpiece: the Art of Citizen 13660.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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