(Re)Present and (Dis)Placed

(Re)Present and (Dis)Placed: Visually Documenting the Experience of Movement and Internment Due to War

Subject Matter

Visual arts that incorporates geography and history.


For grades 6-8, but can be adapted to younger or older grades.


This project is broken up into three different lessons. They can be used separately or they can be taught together over 7 class periods.

Goal of Lesson

Students will come to understand the struggle of displaced individuals due to war through the visual analysis of art and illustrations that document the experiences of these displaced individuals. Students will also create works that document their own experiences in movement and (dis)placement.

Key Concepts

How many times in your life have you moved? Was it a choice to move? Moving, in general, can be a challenge, even if it is by choice and the move is not that far away. The process of moving from one space into another, from the comfortable and known into the unfamiliar and unknown, can be a jarring experience for most people, even if it is for a positive reason. Millions of people, however, have moved (some forcibly so) due to conflict and war. While discussion will involve more recent examples of displaced groups of people and the students’ own experiences of movement, the end focus of this lesson is on WWII and the Japanese-American internment camps.


(most definitions taken from PA State Standards)

Artifact – Any objet made by human work or skill.

Assemblage – A two- or three-dimensional artwork that contains a collection of found and created objects.

Cartography – The study and practice of map making.

Conflict – The opposition of persons or groups that gives rise to dramatic action. Such actions could include the use of force as in combat.

Context – A set of interrelated background conditions that influence and give meaning to the development and reception of thoughts, ideas, or concepts and that define specific cultures and eras.

Contextual Criticism – Discussion and evaluation with consideration of factors surrounding the origin and heritage to works in the arts and humanities.

Critical Analysis – The process of examining and discussing the effective uses of specific aspects of works in the arts.

Culture – The way of life of a group of people, including customs, beliefs, arts, institutions and worldview. Culture is acquired through many means and is always changing.

Ethnicity – Identification of people sharing common history, cultural, racial, and or religious background.

Graphic Representations – Visual examples.

Internment – Imprisonment or confinement of a group of people.

Outsider Art – Art created outside the boundaries of the traditional art world, and artists typically have no formal art training.

Traveling Voices – The writings of people who have moved, specifically the “transnational authors who represent various aspects of Japan and the Japanese diaspora” (Tachibana).

PA State Standards

Subject Area: Geography:

7.3.6.A: Describe the human characteristics of places and regions using the following criteria: Population; Cultur e; Settlement; Economic activities; Political activities

Subject Area: History:

8.3.6.B: Explain the importance of significant historical documents, artifacts, and places critical to United States history.

8.3.6.D: Explain how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations have impacted the history and development of the U.S.; Ethnicity and race;   Working conditions; Immigration; Military conflict; Economic stability

8.4.6.A: Explain the social, political, cultural, and economic contributions of individuals and groups to world history.

8.4.6.B: Identify and explain the importance of historical documents, artifacts, and sites which are critical to world history.

8.4.6.D: Examine patterns of conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations that impacted the development of the history of the world.

Subject Area: Arts and Humanities:

9.1.8.E: Communicate a unifying theme or point of view through the production of works in the arts.

9.2.8D: Analyze a work of art from its historical and cultural perspective.

9.2.8E: Analyze how historical events and culture impact forms, techniques and purposes of works in the art

9.2.8L: Identify, explain and analyze common themes, forms and techniques from works in the arts

9.3.8A: Know and use the critical process of the examination of works in  the arts and humanities. Compare and contrast; Analyze; Interpret; Form and test hypotheses; Evaluate/form judgments

9.4.8C: Describe how the attributes of the audience’s environment influence aesthetic responses


  • Books and DVDs (see resources)
  • Internet access
  • Assortment of maps (both digital and actual maps)
  • Pencil
  • Sheet of paper
  • Extra-fine black Sharpie marker
  • Watercolor paints and paintbrush
  • Shrink film (like Shrinky Dinks)
  • Extra fine sand paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Toaster oven or oven
  • Box
  • Found objects
  • Glue

Lesson Plan

Introduction/Days 1 and 2: Cartographies of Experience:

Mapmaking, or cartography, is a graphic representation of the physical, political, or other conceptual properties of the earth using signs, symbols, and other graphic means. Mapmaking marks the beginning of the journey of this unit, in identifying the use and making of maps to identify movement of individuals within a place.

  • Motivation: Read or show “How I Learned Geography” by Uri Shulevitz. While a picture book, the story is relevant to migration and cartography. Shulevitz wrote an autobiographical account of his life, his family fleeing Poland at the start of WWII bound for southern Soviet Union.
    • Why did the author move from his home in Poland?
    • What allowed the author to travel all over the world?
    • Shulevitz also created maps of places he hadn’t experienced when he was young. Then, based upon memory, he recreated his experiences of his youth as an adult. How does memory and time affect our recollections?
  • Mapping
    • What is a map?
    • When have you used a map?
  • Use a world map to show the journey that Shulevitz took in 1939, from Poland to what is now Kazakhstan.
    • What obstacles in traveling do you think Shulevitz and his family encountered on the way?
  • Show various examples of maps, such political, climate, physical, topographic, and street maps depicting the world, country, state, regional, city. (Digital examples are easily found through a search on the Internet or visit your local visitor’s center for actual local and state maps. You can also toggle between different types of maps in Google Maps or use Google Earth to zoom into the globe)
  • What do the maps depict?
    • What do the symbols mean?
    • How have the mapmakers made the map easy to read and understand?
    • Compare the maps. How are they different?
    • Which type of map is easiest to understand?
    • Would you consider these maps art? Why or why not?
  • Introduce the term cartography. View examples of hand drawn cartography (Digital or actual examples).
    • How do hand drawn maps differ from the other maps seen?
    • How are they similar?
    • Would you consider hand drawn cartography art? Why or why not?
    • How is cartography considered art?
    • Why do you think people make maps?
  • Students will be making a map as well to document their own sense of place and movement. Use the book “Personal Geographies” by J. K. Berry to reference making personal maps. The first section contains maps using traced hands as a structural form and conceptual framework, filled with physical and conceptual symbols depicting personal journeys.
  • Students will trace their hand(s) on a sheet of watercolor paper with a pencil. Fill the hand with signs, symbols, and text that represents a journey taken. Trace with extra-fine black Sharpie marker and paint with watercolor.
    • What journey will you represent? Is it a real experience based on memory? Or is it an imagined journey you wish to take?
    • What stories will you tell? Will it represent a struggle you had?
    • What places are important in your journey?
    • What are the important graphic depictions seen and experienced in your journey?
    • How will color be used?
  • Optional techniques:
    • Use embossing metal to create a sculptural hand. Use pencil or a metal stylus to draw into the metal, creating depressions like a bas-relief. Color using permanent markers.
    • Use canvas (roll or framed) and trace hands with pencil. Paint with acrylics.
  • Discuss the hand maps.
  • What stories do they tell?
    • Was it difficult to draw a personal map?
    • Consider Shulevitz’ portrayal of and connection with maps. How did he use maps? How does memory of past experiences relate to the maps?

Days 3/4: The Power of Autobiographical Experiences: Movement, Migration, and Exile:

In the first lesson, the focus was on cartography and documentation of experiences remembered or imagined in map form. In this lesson, the focus is on autobiographies of the migration/refugee experience in pictorial form from two artists, Allen Say and Andrew Romanoff.

  • Begin this segment with the work of children’s book author/illustrator Allen Say. Say and his family’s migration stories have alternated between Japan and the United States since his grandfather first moved to the United States in the late 19th century. In the Caldecott winning book “Grandfather’s Journey,” Say provides a biographical account of his grandfather’s movement from Japan to the United States back to Japan, returning again to the US where Say’s mother was born and before settling down in Japan for the rest of his grandfather’s life. Say was supposed to travel to the US as a little boy, but plans become delayed due to WWII. Read the book to students and discuss.
    • Have you ever felt that you wished you were someplace else, but then realized you missed the place you called home? How did you feel?Why do you think you felt that way?
    • When were your own plans to travel/move changed because of something else? What happened?
  • Prince Andrew Romanoff, grandson of the last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II, was born in 1923 in London. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918 when his grandfather was murdered, his family had fled their homeland and was sheltered by the British Royal Family. While Romanoff grew up in the safe and upscale environment of Windsor Castle, he and his family were still refugees, forced from their homeland. In “The Boy Who Would Be Tsar,” Romanoff created his artwork using Shrinky Dink as a medium and depicts moments from his life. The artwork is approximately 2 ½”x 3 ½”. Since Romanoff is not a formally trained artist, he is considered an outsider artist.
    • Look at some of these memories of Romanoff’s life. What experiences did he select? How do you think he felt about growing up in London?
    • Consider the material he used- Shrinky Dinks, a plastic film that shrinks and gets thicker by baking it in an oven. Why do you think he used that material? What effect does this material give the artwork? What if Romanoff used a more traditional material, such as oil on canvas?
    • The size is also small for a work of art, and it incorporates text. How would the work be different if the artwork was larger in scale?
    • How does Romanoff’s work differ from Say’s?
  • Map the movements of Say (Yokohama, Japan where he was born to Berkeley, California where he attended college) and Romanoff (Moscow, Russia where his grandfather was tsar; Windsor Palace, England where he was born; and Marin, California where he now lives).
  • Discuss classroom stories of movement, migration, and perhaps immigration.
    • Where did you move (or travel)?
    • What did you bring with you?
    • What did you miss about home or the place from where you moved?
    • What experiences in your new place did you like to do? What experiences did you not like?
    • How has your family shaped your experiences?
  • Create an autobiographical series using Shrinky Dink as the medium. Cut the Shrinky Dink sheet into four equal parts (it should be approximately 4 1/4” x 5 1/2”). Roughen up one side of the plastic with the extra fine sandpaper. Work in one direction only.
    • Think about three or four memories from your life.
    • What memories will you include?
  • Optional subject matter: choose one of the books located in the resource section (or choose another immigration story) to base the work on. Choose three events from the story to draw.
  • Using the extra-fine Sharpie marker, draw this memory on the slick side of the plastic. Draw as many details as you can, including scenery, people, what you did. You may include text either in the drawing, or you can cut one of the four pieces into three long rectangles and write your narrative there.
  • On the other side of the plastic, the side roughened up with sandpaper, use colored pencils to color in the details.
  • Use an oven or toaster oven to shrink the film. Follow the package directions to do so.
  • Mount on mat board.

Days 5/6/7: A Box of Memories:

Experiences of Japanese-Americans in WWII Internment Camps

The heart of the lesson is the discussion of experiences of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during WWII in the United States. In camps such as Tule Lake in California, thousands of American citizens of Japanese heritage were imprisoned as precautionary measure after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during WWII. This lesson focuses on the memories, narratives, and artwork of those who were imprisoned, such as Mirikitani.

  • Introduce the term traveling voices.
    • Why is it important to read the writings of those who have been displaced and moved from their home country?
  • Read documentation of the Japanese interment camp experiences. Children’s picture books include “So Far from the Sea” by Bunting, “A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Lee-Tai, and “The Bracelet” by Uchida. Chapter books and books for older readers include “Sylvia & Aki” by Conkling, “Weedflower” by Kadohata, “A Jar of Dreams” by Uchida, and “No-No Boy” by Okada.
    • What struggles did the main characters have in the books read?
    • Why were Japanese-Americans placed in these camps? Is there a difference between being interned and being imprisoned?
    • Are there any similarities of the Japanese-American interment camps and racial profiling to current groups of people or events? Explain.
  • Watch all or a portion of “The Cats of Mirikitani.” (The film is 74 minutes long.) The film is about “Jimmy” Tsutomu Mirikitani who was imprisoned in Tule Lake Camp for over 3 years. The documentary filmmaker who created “The Cats of Mirikitani” found him living on the streets of NYC making art. After 9/11, Jimmy was once again displaced and the filmmaker took him home and discovered more of his life story. It is a fascinating look at how one man became separated from his family and used art to merge his experiences and depict his memories.
    • What is the subject matter of Mirikitani’s artwork?
    • Mirikitani’s life has not been an easy one, yet he remains incredibly optimistic. How do you think the creation of his artwork helped him?
    • The artwork of Tule Lake was created about 50 years after his experience there. How have time and memory shaped these images?
  • Flo Oy Wong is a Chinese-American artist who uses mixed media and installation in her visual storytelling. In the exhibit 1942: Luggage from Home to Camp, Wong interviewed six Japanese-Americans on their experiences in internment camps and created individual sculptural pieces using actual luggage from the camps.
    • Look these works and analyze each one. How has Wong given voice to each of these six camp detainees?
    • What stories do they tell?
    • Wong created this project in part because of her concern for what may happen to Arab Americans after 9/11. What do you think her  concerns were?
    • She says she is “aware of how 1942: Luggage From Home To Camp, an art project, weaves identity, culture, and history into a legacy of remembrance and healing.” How do you think these pieces can heal by remembrance?
  • Students will create a memory box based upon the journey, the migration, and/or displacement of another. This person can be a relative or an immigrant who now lives in the community. Interview the person.
    • What journey have they taken?
    • Where did they grow up?
    • Why did they move?
    • Who did they move with?
    • What memories do they have of their home town or country?
    • What or who do they miss from their move?
    • What readjustments did they need to make upon their relocation?
  • Use photos, drawings, found or sculptured objects, and other pieces to create an assemblage that visually tells the narrative of this im/migrant. Use glue to secure objects into a box.


Picture Books:

Bunting, E. (2009). So Far from the Sea. (C.K. Soentpiet, Illustrator). Sandpiper.

-This book, told from a child’s perspective, is an account of visiting the Japanese internment camp in California where the girl’s grandfather died before her family moves to Boston.

Lee-Tai, A. (2006). A Place Where Sunflowers Grow. Children’s Book Press.

-Written in both English and Japanese, the story is set in WWII at a Japanese internment camp in the desert in California.

Say, A. (1989). The Bicycle Man. Sandpiper. (2005). Kamishibai Man. Houghton Mifflin. (2008). Grandfather’s Journey. Sandpiper. (2009). Tree of Cranes. Sandpiper.

(2009). Tea with Milk. Sandpiper.

(2011). Drawing from Memory. Scholastic Press.

-Born in Japan prior to WWII, Say is a prolific author/illustrator of children’s books on the Japanese experience of place, migration, and displacement.

Shulevitz, U. (2008). How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

-An autobiographical account of the author/illustrator’s life, forced out of Poland during WWII as a little boy, growing up in Soviet Union without much except for a large map his father bought. The map allowed Shulevitz to escape his destitute situation by traveling all over the world in his imagination.

Uchida, Y. (1996). The Bracelet. Puffin.

-Before a Japanese-American girl is sent to the internment camp, a friend gives her a bracelet to remind her of their friendship.


Conkling, W. (2011). Sylvia & Aki. Tricyle Press. 160 pages.

-Set in California and Arizona during WWII and the years after, Sylvia & Aki tells the parallel stories of two girls, one Mexican-American and one Japanese-American, who face prejudice and discrimination in the education system. Based upon a true story.

Kadohata, C. (2009). Weedflower. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 272 pages.

-A girl is sent to a Japanese internment camp during WWII with her family, far away from her family’s flower farm.

Okada, J. (1979). No-No Boy. University of Washington Press. 176 pages.

-Many Japanese-American men during WWII served in the US army against the Japanese, while some others refused and served in internment camps, ostracized by their community and called “no—no boys.”

Uchida, Y. (1993). A Jar of Dreams. Aladdin. 144 pages.

-Set in California in the 1930s, a girl questions her Japanese heritage until her aunt comes to visit from Japan.


Yoshikawa, M. (Producer). Hattendorf, L. (Director). (2006). The cats of Mirikitani. New Video Group. 74 minutes.

-This documentary looks at the life of Jimmy Mirikitami, a Japanese-American artist living on the streets of New York, creating artwork depicting both cats and his life in an internment camp at Tule Lake for 3 ½ years during WWII.

Other Books and Resources

Berry, J. K. (2011). Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking. North Light Books.

-Ideas and suggestions for creating personal maps in a variety of styles and materials.

Romanoff, A. (2006). The Boy Who Would Be Tsar: The Art of Prince Andrew Romanoff. C. Amini, Ed. Gallery 16 Editions.

-This is a richly illustrated catalog of the shrink plastic autobiographical art of Prince Romanoff, whose Russian family sought refuge in Windsor Castle, London after the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20th century.

Wong, F. O. (2007). Galleries: Suitcase series. Retrieved from  https://web.archive.org/web/20220521004233/https://www.flo-oy-wongartist.com/gallery/suit/1942.html

-Flo Oy Wong is a visual artist who created a series of works for the 2003 exhibition 1942: From Luggage to Camp using the actual suitcases from six Japanese-Americans that were placed in internment camps.

National Geographic Xpeditions (2005). Mapmaking Guide (6-8) Retrieved from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/lessons/09/g68/cartographyguidestudent.pdf

-A great introduction to map terminology, symbols, and types.

Tule Lake Committee (2005). History of Tule Lake Concentration Camp and the Pilgrimages. Retrieved from http://www.tulelake.org/

-A history of the internment camp where some Japanese-Americans, such as Jimmy Mirikitani, were imprisoned.