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Bellevue Arts Museum

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Powerful exhibit at Bellevue Arts Museum honors Japanese Americans

Teens and tweens in particular will learn important lessons from this engaging exhibit.

Walking through the doors of the Bellevue Arts Museum, visitors find themselves facing a vibrant and powerful exhibition.

“Emerging Radiance: Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue” is Michelle Kumata’s latest work. It opened Feb. 3. In collaboration with Creative Director Tani Ikeda, Kumata created a farmhouse mural that explores the history of more than 60 Japanese-American families living in Bellevue who were forcibly displaced from their homes and placed into internment camps during World War II. 

Commissioned by Meta Open Arts, “Emerging Radiance” presents the stories of these farmers.

Photo by ARTXIV


In a fusion of past and present, visitors can scan a QR code and watch as the painted portraits come to life using augmented reality. As we follow the white crane clockwise, each side of the farmhouse plays the voices of real survivors, taken from interviews recorded two decades ago. This modern technology, interlaced with pieces of history, helps to amplify the stories and make the exhibition more memorable.

Not everyone, however, has a smartphone or tablet with these capabilities. This is something to consider when you visit the museum. However, even without any (or with limited) tech in hand, you can still take in and be changed by the architecture and artistry.

Photo by ARTXIV


What you’ll see and hear

The stories are difficult and emotional, such as tales of the Nikkei farmers’ wells being poisoned and their homes vandalized.

Kumata and Ikeda spent hours poring over archival footage, documents, photographs and other materials to put together this immersive experience. One cannot help but notice symbolism as well as the attention to detail, such as the personal touches painted on individuals’ clothing to illustrate the lives they led. The use of gold and yellow was a conscious decision to highlight racism and xenophobia against Asians and Asian Americans, while also being a color of power and honor.

For Kumata, the mural’s mission is multifaceted: “So many of these stories of incarceration are lost and will be lost with this older generation. … I feel like the farmhouse is a container for the stories and experiences, but then there are these bright, glowing portraits that come alive to help our community heal by sharing their stories of strength and resilience.” 

Photo by ARTXIV

This work is unveiled as we approach the somber date of Feb. 19. This year marks the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the forced removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S.

State-sanctioned discrimination is often seen as a legacy of the American South. However, “Emerging Radiance” holds a mirror up to the Pacific Northwest and the role that this region also played in cultural hegemony. These are important historical lessons from an educational standpoint, but beyond that, learning about the Nikkei farmers urges us not to repeat the past, and it reminds us — and helps us remind young people, in turn — to treat one another other with kindness, respect and tolerance. 

Know before you go:

  • The exhibit runs through March 13.
  • It would be best for tweens and teens, although looking at this fascinating and colorful mural can be enjoyed by all ages.
  • The Bellevue Arts Museum will also present “Day of Remembrance: 80th Anniversary Live Broadcast Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue, on Feb. 19. It will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the installation.
  • In addition to Emerging Radiance, Michelle Kumata’s Regeneration exhibition, which also explores the legacy of the Japanese American incarceration, is on view at Bonfire Gallery through March 26, 2022. 
  • Visit the exhibition and BAM will be giving away 1,000 seed packets in connection to the  Seed Sovereignty Workshop, while supplies last.
  • Visit the museum for other exhibits and general kids’ activities on the Second Floor, Imagination Station. Activities include: Magnetic Motion, How It’s Made: Kiln Glass and a Community Portrait Wall.
  • Check the BAM website for more information about tickets and COVID policies.


More to do in and near Bellevue:

14 great parks for toddlers on the Eastside

Parent review: Visiting Kidsquest museum in Bellevue with pandemic precautions


About the Author

Danielle Hayden

Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and former educator. She has enjoyed learning about Seattle since moving here; it seems like a great place for kids and adults alike.