Horrific events in Japan and how art helps – ART IT columnist Kyoichi Tsuzuki

JAPANESE TRAUMA ART EARTHQUAKE TSUNAMI

In an article for ART IT, Kyoichi Tsuzuki expresses his sadness at the devastating March 2011 earthquake in Japan and takes some time to show us how art has been utilised by Japanese people during and after horrific and extreme events over the past century.

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami has produced many horrific images that continue to flood the media worldwide even months after the event. But none of those pictures intrigue Kyoichi Tsuzuki as much as a single painting by Shigeru Mizuki does. The untitled painting created by the old Japanese cartoonist for an international newspaper prompts the writer to pause for thought:

A right hand reaching out of swirling water as if about to be swallowed up by the muddy torrent. Fingers straining outstretched in a desperate struggle. In contrast to the sentimental media chorus exhorting us to “join together and rise again,” Mizuki’s is a stark, powerful work that grabs us – we humans prone to avert our gazes from horrific reality – by our collective throats, and forces us to face what has actually occurred. That such a work is the creation not of some fashionable contemporary artist, but an aging cartoonist, also gives much pause for thought.

Click here to read the full article on Japanese contemporary art news website ART IT.

A trauma art painting by Mizuki Shigeru printed in 'The New York Times'. Image from libertysketch.tumblr.com.

A trauma art painting by Mizuki Shigeru printed in 'The New York Times'. Image from libertysketch.tumblr.com.

As the nation chants slogans of optimism and victory, Shigeru Mizuki’s art hits viewers with a harsh reality: the tsunami has swallowed an estimated 150,000 or more souls. The hand raised from the torrent symbolises a feeling or an event, a result of the earthquake, that is open to the viewers’ imagination and interpretation. Most importantly, it sparks conversation in society, a key function of art during a traumatic event.

Tsuzuki comments on how the art scene in Japan has been “paralyzed in the face of Japan’s worst natural disaster since the Great Kanto Earthquake”, as many museums were shut down and exhibitions were postponed. To remind artists of their unique role in a time of catastrophe, Tsuzuki highlights how art was an effective tool for documenting the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake:

Of particular interest are the numerous large canvases depicting scenes from the disaster, the painters’ determination to engage head-on with the subject matter obvious in an era when paintings still had a significant documentary function.

Artworks documenting the Great Kantō earthquake are displayed in the Reconstruction Memorial Hall. Image from art-it.asia.

Artworks documenting the Great Kantō earthquake are displayed in the Reconstruction Memorial Hall (Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo). Image from art-it.asia.

Tsuzuki draws special attention to Ryushu Tokunaga’s massive oil paintings, which “have a horrific intensity in their no-holds-barred rendering of the terrible damage wrought by the earthquake.”

Painting documenting the destruction of Junkai (left) and painting of priests pray at the remains of the earthquake (right). Image from art-it.asia.

Painting documenting the destruction of Junkai (left) and painting of priests pray at the remains of the earthquake (right). Tokyo Hall of Repose (Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo). Image from art-it.asia.

He also spotlights the WWII air raid photographs taken by Koyo Ishikawa, “the sole record of the largest raids over Tokyo [9-10 March 1945].”

This photograph shows a pile of corpses, a result of the 9-10 March 1945 Tokyo air raids. Image from art-it.asia.

This photograph shows a pile of corpses, a result of the 9-10 March 1945 Tokyo air raids. Tokyo Hall of Repose (Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo). Image from art-it.asia.

Apart from works that speak about the Great Kantō earthquake itself, Tsuzuki wrote about others that record or represent Japan’s recovery following the disaster. These include a model street layout of Tokyo and posters produced in the US, Italy and other countries at that time rallying the public to come to the country’s aid.

He signs off by urging artists to respond to one of the most destructive events in Japan’s history, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami,

Noticed by no one – not the children playing innocently in the park, nor their mothers dwelling in the surrounding high-rise apartments, nor the salarymen mellowing out on benches – in their silence, the collection of quake paintings adorning the walls of the Hall of Repose and Reconstruction Memorial Hall seem to have something urgent to say to those of us – artists in particular – now paralyzed in the face of Japan’s worst natural disaster since the Great Kantō earthquake.

Back in March 2011 we wrote about Japanese “mega-artist” Takashi Murakami’s earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. The artist started a Twitter campaign urging people to post images using Twit pic and a particular hashtag (#newday_GEISAI) following which he created a series of new paintings with sale proceeds going to the relief fund. Click here to read more about Takashi Murakami’s 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

CBK/KN/HH

Related Topics: Japanese artists, war art, historical artoverviews

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