Mine Okubo Renowned Artist, UC Berkeley alumna (class of 1938)

Miné Okubo was a distinguished Japanese American artist and UC Berkeley alumna. As a young woman she had already embarked on her art journey at Cal, pursuing Bachelor’s and Master’s of Fine Arts degrees.

She always had a passion for art, especially since her mother, Miyo, used to be an artist herself and paint at home. Miyo always encouraged her children to pursue artistic careers, and Miné did just that.

She went to Riverside Community College in 1931. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art degree in 1935. The following year, she earned her Master of Arts in art and anthropology. As a student at Cal, she was awarded the Bertha Taussig Traveling Art Fellowship for the study of art abroad in 1938.

Mine was studying and traveling in Europe as an aspiring artist when World War II broke out.

Her return home was difficult and took several months. Once back in Berkeley, she and her brother lived in a little house near the train tracks. At this time Berkeley was rigidly segregated; no one who was not white was allowed to live above Grove (now Martin Luther King), a division still reflected in the economic disparities between the Berkeley hills and the flatlands.

Despite discriminatory practices like these, Miné’s life was filled with friends and meaningful work - she seemed to get along with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Miné is best known for her illustrated study of camp life in her memoir, Citizen 13660, published in 1946. Although cameras were forbidden in the camps, Miné felt compelled to document the harsh daily life through her art. She explained that while she was interned, she “had the opportunity to study the human race from the cradle to the grave, and to see what happens to people when reduced to one status and one condition.”

Miné’s simple graphic line drawings allowed her to give the reader a sense of the harsh conditions of camp. She was able to document aspects of camp life that were forbidden to photographers, such as the guard towers, dust storms, and dirty makeshift rooms.

She also captured the reactions to atrocities committed by the guards, including the shooting of an unarmed elderly man inside the camp boundaries.

While Miné documented camp honestly, she also detailed daily life with an ironic sense of humor. Here she portrays herself teaching art in a camp classroom that has devolved into complete chaos; in her accompanying description, she simply states that "classroom discipline war poor."

Miné continued to develop her art practice outside of simple camp sketches as well. Here her painting “Barracks” shows a mood-filled study of camp buildings. She sketched what she saw, just as she had done on her European travels.

She also became the art editor of Trek, an artistic journal produced and published in Topaz.

Miné Okubo continued her art journey after the war by doing freelance illustrations and paintings. Her uniqueness and creativity are showcased through many of her abstract and colorful paintings. Citizen 13660 won an American Book Award from the American Booksellers Association in 1984 after it was reissued by the University of Washington Press.

Mine passed away in 2001 at the age of 88, in her apartment in Manhattan filled with artwork from a long and fruitful career.

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