Saturday, August 06, 2005

1000 Peace Doves over Hiroshima

A mother prays with her child in Hiroshima's Peace Park, August 6th, 2005
People all over the world marked August 6th, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bombing of Japan, by rekindling a world-wide push to abolish all nuclear weapons. From Germany and India, to Australia and England - hundreds of thousands held demonstrations and commemorations that called for the dismantling of atomic arsenals. Americans in New York City drew chalk outlines on sidewalks to symbolized the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who were incinerated in the nuclear bombings, and at Seal Beach, California, protestors gathered at the naval facility where nuclear weapons are stored. In actions large and small, reported and unreported - millions expressed their desire to see a world free of weapons of mass destruction. In Japan, at precisely 8:15 in the morning, the moment the bomb burst over Hiroshima 60 years ago, the city's trolleys stopped, while over 55,000 people gathered in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park to pray for the dead and a peaceful future. A moment of silence was held for the thousands who perished - a silence that was broken with the release of 1,000 white doves and the ringing of a bronze bell.

Tens of thousands of hand-folded paper cranes symbolizing peace, long life and health, were left on and around the simple arch-shaped stone monument that stands at the center of the park. Flowers and wreaths were placed around the monument, and hundreds brought ladles of water - symbolizing the tens of thousands who perished sixty years ago while pleading for water. Accounts from those fateful days tell of parched survivors of the atomic inferno begging for water - only to drop dead after their first sip. Outside of the only building to withstand the atomic blast, the famous A-Bomb Dome of Hiroshima, hundreds of peace activists fell to the ground to conduct a die-in that would dramatize their demand for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Hundreds of others staged a march to demand the removal of Japanse troops from occupied Iraq. As the sun set, many thousands of small paper lantern boats were released onto the river next to the Peace Park. Each lantern held a candle, and symbolized the soul of someone who died in the atomic fire.

Hiroshima's Mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, read a Peace Declaration for the abolishment of nuclear weapons, and criticized the United States, Russia and all the other nations possessing atomic bombs for "jeopardizing human survival." The Mayor said that "Within the United Nations, nuclear club members use their veto power to override the global majority and pursue their selfish objectives." A statement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was read to the crowd at Peace Park by Nobuyasu Abe, the UN undersecretary for disarmament. Annan warned against the "cascade of nuclear proliferation" now taking place across the world. He said "we are witnessing continued efforts to strengthen and modernize nuclear arsenals", a clear swipe at the Bush administration, which is involved in developing a new class of battlefield nuclear weapons. Annan went on to say, "Today we are all hibakusha (atom bomb survivors). No nuclear weapon has been used again, and progress has been made in reducing such weapons and preventing the proliferations. But we still live in a world where tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain - many of them on hair-trigger alert."

The Hiroshima Panels

[ The following article originally appeared on artist Mark Vallen’s Art For A Change web log - link ]

Fire - Painting by Iri and Toshi Maruki (detail)
Virtually unknown in the west, The Hiroshima Panels are as profound an antiwar work as Pablo Picasso’s famous mural, Guernica. The creation of Japanese artists, Iri and Toshi Maruki (both now deceased), the panels depict the atomic holocaust wrought upon Japan when the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The monumental panels, which are actually painted upon traditional-style folding screens, took 30 years to complete, and provide a chilling look at the terror of nuclear war. The husband and wife team visited the city of Hiroshima three days after it was bombed. They carried the injured, cremated the dead, searched for food, and gathered materials to help construct shelters. Overwhelmed by the destruction they witnessed, three years passed before the couple decided to set upon the creation of artworks that would communicate to the world the need to banish nuclear weapons.

Using a poetic figurative realism partly based upon traditional Japanese aesthetics, the Maruki’s painted a series of monumental panels that graphically portrayed how the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came face to face with the atomic age on the 6th and 9th of August, 1945. By 1956 the artists had completed ten panels, adding two new screens; the eleventh in 1959 and the twelfth in 1968. Each of the panels dealt with specific aspects of the bombing, and were appropriately titled with names like Ghosts, Fire and Atomic Desert. The murals were no mere castigation of the U.S. for having dropped the bombs on Japan. The Maruki’s savagely criticized Japan’s own war-time militarists for being cruel imperialists, and in the panel portraying the Japanese occupation and rape of Nanking, China - all the ferocity and arrogance of Imperial Japan is laid bare. The artists also painted a panel called Auschwitz, where the Nazi atrocities committed against the Jewish people were depicted with unrelenting clarity. The Maruki’s also painted panels showing Korean forced laborers and U.S. prisoners of war as victims of the atomic bombings. One panel, simply title Crows, illustrated a grisly scene - flocks of Crows descending from the sky to feast upon dead Koreans. Painted with a traditional flourish, it is a heartrending and pitiful image. As the artists wrote, "Koreans and Japanese look alike. Mercilessly charred faces - is there any difference? Together, Asians were devastated by the bomb."

Known in Japan as, Genbaku no Zu (Hiroshima Murals), the panels brought international recognition to the artists. In 1995 the Maruki’s were recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize for their ardent creative work towards world peace. Their artworks were exhibited overseas numerous times, and a museum was established in Japan to house them in 1967. Iri passed away in 1995, and his wife Toshi, followed in 2000. The Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels is still open to the public today, and they maintain a website were you can get a glimpse of this world treasure. Part of the gallery is the actual studio were the artists worked and painted. However, in recent years attendance has been dwindling, and the gallery has put out an emergency appeal for funds so that it may continue operating. Visit the online gallery, view the works, and offer a donation to keep this vital project going (the gallery can also be telephoned at 0493-22-3266). Writer and gallery board of directors member, Teruko Yoshitake, put it this way, "The Maruki’s continued to paint, hoping to make the 21st century a period of peace. We want people to help out to ensure that the gallery continues to function as the base for anti-nuclear sentiments and protecting the peace Constitution."

Twenty years ago, the artists wrote, "We began making sketches and worked day and night, encouraged by friends of the same mind who offered to act as models. As we painted, we thought and remembered and wondered. What is a 17 year old life span to a 17-year-old? What is a three year life to a three-year-old? The 900 sketches were merged together to create the paintings. We thought we had painted a tremendous number of people, but there were around 260,000 who died in Hiroshima. If we painted for years, we could not put on paper the number killed in that one second. We prayed for the blessing of the dead and prayed that the bomb would never fall again and destroy life. With these thoughts supermost in our minds, as one painting was completed - we began another. The long lasting radioactivity and the latent effects of the bomb are still, nearly forty years later, causing suffering and death. This was not a natural disaster… that is the unforgettable horrifying fact."

Nagasaki Nightmare

[ The following article originally appeared on artist Mark Vallen’s Art For A Change web log - link ]

Evening glow over Hiroshima - Woodblock print by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi
August 6th, 2005, marks the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan. August 9th, marks the bombing of Nagasaki. Those who survived the blasts became known as hibakusha (Atom Bomb Survivors), and in 1974 the hibakusha began contributing artworks to an unusual project that would preserve for the world their memories of atomic fire. The Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK - Japan Broadcasting Corporation), encouraged hibakusha to submit original artworks based on personal experiences of having survived the nuclear bombings. Soon thousands of drawings, paintings and woodblock prints began arriving at the offices of NHK, and an exhibition of the collected paintings and drawings was mounted at the Peace Culture Center of Hiroshima in 1975. In 1984 I had the distinct honor of organizing an exhibition of these remarkable paintings in an exhibit I curated at a venue in Venice California. I received some 30 images from Japan that had at the time, rarely been seen in the United States. Since then the NHK/hibakusha artworks have been compiled into several books and traveling exhibitions. To commemorate the first... and hopefully last atomic war, I've recently expanded the archive of hibakusha artworks I maintain on my Art For A Change website. The artworks can be viewed at: