- Linking Disaster to Natural History, A Visit to Sasaoka Keiko’s Exhibition: Tanesashi, Ninoshima (Hachinohe City Museum of Art)
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At a talk during the opening of her exhibition, the photographer Sasaoka Keiko remarked, “For me, Ninoshima is an untouchable.” Ninoshima is an island to which large numbers of the dead and badly wounded were transported after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In Sasaoka’s words we can glean—to the extent that such a thing can be expressed—the weight of what she has learned from studying the history of her hometown Hiroshima, as she wandered around ground zero of the bombing and took photographs.
Sasaoka digs into the challenges of relating an event that rode roughshod over the individuality of each person’s death and does not stop in her attempt to communicate it. And she does so without seeking any sort of streamlining under the pretext of forging new methods of preservation or communication. That decision brings a certain darkness into her photographs.
In this exhibition, Sasaoka captures Ninoshima using two techniques. The first is an image of a negative seen between the heads of passengers on the ferry to the island. The second is a series of five photographs that feature a distant view of the island hazed in rain, with countless raindrops piercing the pleats of ocean waves in the foreground. Sasaoka represents the memory of Ninoshima, which lies hidden behind the “untouchable” water’s edge as a tangible “scape.”1
In the “Hiroshima” section on the second floor of the museum, Sasaoka has thoughtfully mixed both older and more recent works, including these latest ones. Her sincerity in resolutely recalling the horrors that human beings have inflicted on others is moving.
The first-floor exhibition room displays enlarged photographs of the Tanesashi coastline in the background, with photographs of the areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake displayed on a small monitor, creating a gentle correspondence between the images. The Hiroshima series investigates what remains after the devastation of [End Page 187] modern civilization, which has trampled on individual human life from the date of August 6, 1945 and continues through to the present day.
According to Sasaoka, photographing the landscapes of the regions of both Tanesashi and the areas damaged by the disaster, employs the shock of March 11, 2011 to link modern history to that which transcends it: natural history. To do so, she looks unblinkingly at the areas of life that were destroyed by the disaster. Therein we find, with limitless empathy, the present and past histories of the many generations of people who were born and lived by the shore.
Artworks on display at Hachinohe City Museum of Art (including five works from the Ninoshima series) © ICANOF
The exhibition was held as Citizen’s Art Support ICANOF 13th Exhibition, Sasaoka Keiko—Ninoshima, Tanesashi, Hachinohe City Museum.
Kuraishi Shino is a Professor at the School of Science and Technology, Meiji University. He specializes in the theory of art practice and the study of cultural assets in modern art and photography, among other areas. He graduated from the Department of Art Studies, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tama Art University, and is a member of the Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in Japan, and the Japan Society of Image Art and Sciences. He has also been a Visiting Researcher at the University of Hawai’i.
Daryl Maude is a Ph.D. candidate in Japanese literature at the University of California, Berkeley. His research is on intimacy and futurity in Japanese and Okinawan literature, using queer and feminist perspectives to examine imaginations of the future after the American Occupation. His review of Akiko Shimizu’s work on transphobia and feminism in Japan, “Queer Nations, Trans-lations,” was published in Postmodern Culture (30:2), and his translation of Shinjō Ikuo’s article “Male Sexuality in the Colony: On Toyokawa Zen’ichi’s ‘Searchlight’” was published in...