Such overtly political themes gradually faded from Noguchi’s art, but his internment experience stayed with him. It seems to rear up, for example, in a brushed stainless steel sculpture, Sentinel (1973). Its title tips off a reading of this work as two abstracted human forms standing side-by-side, on guard. The form on the left possesses a raised bar, which stretches out solidly and suggests a barrier or a gun. Though an open space between the two forms allows for passage, the work’s thick metal beams and its brilliant, busy surface make it feel intimidating and impenetrable.
Sentinel provides only a subtle sense of how traumatized Noguchi and his fellow internees must have felt, imprisoned under armed guard in the deserts of their own country, guilty of nothing but sharing the heritage of one of America’s wartime enemies. While in Poston, Noguchi argued strenuously against this chauvinism in an unpublished article he wrote for Reader’s Digest: “To be hybrid anticipates the future. This is America, the nation of all nationalities…. For us to fall into the Fascist line of race bigotry is to defeat our unique personality and strength.” His words are no less urgent right now.