News Column

FEATURE: Panels on A-bombings to be exhibited in U.S. capital

August 21, 2014

Keiji Hirano

A gallery in a Tokyo suburb plans to exhibit a series of large panels depicting the horrors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the United States next year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attacks.

"We hope the exhibition will stir awareness of the importance of handing down memories of the atomic bombing among people in the United States," said Yukinori Okamura, curator of the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels.

The panels were created by Iri and Toshi Maruki, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize nominees.

The husband-and-wife team created 15 panels on the atomic bombings -- each standing 1.8 meters by 7.2 meters -- over 32 years from 1950, and the Maruki Gallery will display six of them at a museum run by American University in Washington from June 13 to Aug. 14, 2015.

"The world was hit by the nuclear threat nearly 70 years ago, and it still remains, or rather expands further, in the face of a nuclear-weapons drive and dependence on nuclear power generation," Okamura said. "It would be significant if we could share experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki across borders and racial lines."

The organizers are also planning to exhibit the panels elsewhere in the United States through around December next year, and if possible, to bring atomic-bomb survivors to give talks, said Takayuki Kodera, chief director of the Maruki Gallery.

"Aging atomic-bomb survivors have a strong hope for the elimination of nuclear weapons while they are still alive, and we want to create a tidal wave for fulfilling their wish by taking the opportunity of the 70th anniversary," Kodera said.

Iri Maruki, a Hiroshima native, arrived in Hiroshima from Tokyo three days after the atomic bombing and Toshi followed him several days later. Their experiences there eventually led them to create the panels.

While the panels have been displayed all over the world, including China, several European countries, South Africa, the Soviet Union and the United States, the exhibition next year will be the first in the U.S. capital.

"I expect U.S. lawmakers, and of course President Barack Obama, to see the Marukis' paintings," Kodera said.

The event was decided on after Peter Kuznick, history professor and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, visited the gallery in May to see the panels. He has taken students to Hiroshima and Nagasaki every summer for the past 20 years.

In an e-mail interview, Kuznick said the atomic bombings "unleashed a nuclear arms race that still threatens the annihilation of all life on the planet."

"It is absolutely essential that Americans, citizens of the only nation to have ever dropped atomic bombs on another country, confront this history with honesty and sensitivity," he said.

While some Americans will object to an exhibit that complicates and even challenges the perception that World War II was a "good war," Kuznick said, "I welcome the opportunity to exchange views and, if necessary, debate with people who take offense at such a heart-wrenching depiction of the atomic bombings."

Okamura said, "Mr. and Mrs. Maruki worked hard to seek how they could depict the atomic bombing through an art work, and I hope people in the United States will face the panels with an open mind."

While American organizers will share part of the costs for the exhibition, the Japanese side has launched a fundraising campaign in the hope of collecting around 10 million yen to cover the cost of transporting the panels and other expenses.

The Maruki Gallery opened in 1967 in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture. Among the visitors during the summer break was Mami Umekawa, 46, who took her 6-year-old son from nearby city of Okegawa.

"I visited this museum around 40 years ago with my grandfather, who was involved in World War II, and I cannot forget the shock I felt at that time," Umekawa said. "I had hoped to bring my son here when he became old enough to get a glimpse of the atomic bombings."

Of the 15 panels, 14 are displayed at the gallery, while the remaining work -- "Nagasaki" -- is owned by the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

Among the 15, the first one is titled "Ghosts," which depicts people whose clothes were burned off and skin peeled by the atomic bombing walking like ghosts with their arms extended in front of them.

Meanwhile, part 13, "Death of American Prisoners of War," focuses on American POWs who were killed in Hiroshima by the atomic bombing or by Japanese captors, while part 14, "Crows," illustrates the discriminatory treatment of Korean atomic-bomb victims and survivors.

In a separate work, the Marukis dealt with the Nanjing Massacre in consideration of Japan's wartime responsibility.

"I hope the upcoming exhibition will become an opportunity for U.S. and Japanese people to promote dialogue over nuclear elimination and peace, with the consciousness that both of them are victimizers of the war," Kodera said.

The Marukis also made other tragedies, such as the Auschwitz concentration camp and Minamata Disease, the subject of their drawings.

Iri Maruki died in October 1995 at the age of 94, while Toshi passed away in January 2000 at 87.

For further information on the U.S. exhibition and the fundraising campaign, call the Maruki Gallery at 0493-22-3266.

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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