What started as a visit to a remote Aleutian island by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic from Australia has grown to become a major exhibition highlighting the little known Aleutian campaign fought during the Second World War between US and Japanese forces.
Associate Professor Dirk Spennemann, a cultural heritage expert and accomplished photographer with CSU’s Institute of Land, Water and Society (ILWS), will showcase stunning photographs he took during visits to Kiska, a remote Aleutian Island between Russia and Alaska in the Bering Strait.
The photographs, which are part of the exhibition titled “Adak and Kiska: War on the Tundra”, were taken during his visits in 2007 and 2009 while he documented the remains of a Japanese military base built on Kiska during the war.
The US National Parks Service contracted the CSU academic to complete an inventory of the guns and other military artefacts left behind when the Japanese evacuated the island in 1943. Kiska is now part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Intending to show both sides in the exhibition, Professor Spennemann visited Japan in December 2009 to find material for the exhibition from the National Defence Archives in Tokyo. While in Japan, the professor visited families of veterans who had been stationed on Kiska.
“As Kiska was evacuated there were many survivors,” said Professor Spennemann, who photographed survivors such as 101 year old veteran Mr Usami Toshiharu.
The exhibition will open on 22 April in Anchorage, Alaska, and runs until 31 December. It is a joint venture between the US National Parks Service, the Anchorage Museum and Charles Sturt University’s ILWS.
It comprises modern images taken by Professor Spennemann; historical photographs of Japanese and American origin; and objects and artefacts on loan from the Anchorage Museum and private owners. The objects include Mr Usami’s diary of his war years, and oil and water colour paintings of life on Kiska done by a Japanese war artist in 1942.
Professor Spennemann said the complex exhibition involved “juggling” different values. “Essentially it’s an American exhibition but I wanted to balance it by pushing the Japanese envelope as much as possible,” he said. “For example I have included a photograph of Japanese soldiers fishing as every Alaskan can relate to that – Alaska is a country of hunting and fishing. I wanted to humanise both sides of the war.”
As part of the exhibition, Professor Spennemann will present public lectures around Alaska at the Anchorage Museum, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Visitor Information Centre in Homer, University of Alaska, Anchorage, and the US air base on Sheyma Island, as well as the US Army’s Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.
After the exhibition finishes at the Anchorage Museum, Dr Spennemann’s images will be used in a travelling exhibition that the US National Parks Service will display throughout USA.