HomeJapanese AmericaneBay cancels auction of Japanese internment camp art

eBay cancels auction of Japanese internment camp art

From Wikimedia Commons by Gillfoto

eBay shut down the auction of 20 sketches allegedly drawn by an artist held at the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in California during World War II, Artnet News reports. At that point, bidding for the sketches had reached $470.

The decision came on the last day of the seven-day auction window after public criticism from cultural groups and institutions including the Japanese American National Museum and the Japanese American Citizens League. In a letter to eBay, a coalition of organizations called for the closure of the auction.

“We object to profiteering off the oppression of Japanese Americans,” they wrote, according to Artnet. “It is wrong to monetize people’s suffering and the works that they managed to make or save under harsh and humiliating conditions. By treating such objects as art to be sold and establishing a benchmark price, you encourage the perception that our history is just another commodity.” 

Former art dealer Big Brigman independently started a petition, which gathered over 1000 signatures, similarly urging eBay to cancel the auction.

“These sales are painful, offensive and disturbing,” Brigman wrote. “Let’s stop seeing a dollar sign in racial, ethnic and religious pain. Please tell eBay: Stop selling Japanese American history. Help our nation be better.”

A spokesperson for eBay told Artnet that the reason for the auction’s cancelation was due to its violation of eBay’s artifacts policy.

“These drawings are from the Manzanar Internment Camp, which is a National Historic Site,” the representative said.

This is not the first time controversy has surrounded the commercialization of artwork and other artifacts from Japanese Americans who were detained in World War II internment camps. In 2015, Rago Auction House canceled a planned auction of photographs, paintings and mementos after a flood of online criticism, according to ABC 7.

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