The Gail Project: An Okinawan-American Dialogue

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Alexyss McClellan, University of California, Santa Cruz
The Gail Project is a collaborative, international public history project that explores the founding years of the American military occupation of Okinawa. The project is inspired by a collection of photos taken in Okinawa in 1952-53 by an American Army Captain: Charles Eugene Gail.When Gail was in Okinawa, the greater Ryukyu Chain was a protectorate of the American military, and whose legacy can be seen to this day. Currently, Okinawa prefecture boasts 32 American Military installations still, approximately 70% of all American military personnel in Japan are located in Okinawa.

The photos were generously donated to Special Collections at McHenry Library by Charles' daughter, Geri Gail, and have since been made available for student research. The Gail Project emphasizes hands-on research and creation of stories and art by undergraduate students.

Gail's presence in 1952-1953 is significant because he catalogues in a very human way, the island immediately before the exponential increase in U.S. Bases. The Okinawa that Gail captures is an Okinawa that no longer exists save for human memory and photographs. Because of their uniqueness, we as a project and as individuals have shown the Gail photos to individuals in Okinawa and at home, as well as have engaged in independent research topics about the military presence, civilian life, as well as the pre-war trends that led to Okinawa's disposition after Japan's defeat. Other topics we also delve into include the history of difference that has been wedged between the mainland of Japan and Okinawa, as well as why so many bases continue to exists on Okinawa today.

Our research and the photos have been met with warmth and enthusiasm by many, particularly those elderly Uchinaanchu (Okinawans) who remember living through this time period. Because of Gail's background as a photography student of Ansel Adams, the photos he took are both aesthetically pleasing in addition to being historically relevant.

Our team of faculty, artists and undergraduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, are developing a traveling exhibition of Gail's photographs with an accompanying digital archive that is comprised of the photos, key texts and documents, oral histories from both American and Okinawan voices, as well as undergraduate student research and writing. We believe that using the photographs as a lens through which to view this crucial time is relevant to populations throughout Okinawa, Japan, the United States and the entire Pacific region. We hope this project encourages a broad public dialog across the pacific about the past, present, and future of the Okinawan-American relationship.

Professor Alan Christy is the project director, Shelby Graham of the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery is the exhibition director and curator, and Tosh Tanaka is media director.

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