Five years after a tsunami and earthquake devastated the northeast coast of Japan, the Japan Society in New York opens the memorial exhibition, In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11 (11 March-12 June 2016).
The natural disaster took around 18,000 lives, left 400,000 people displaced, and crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, causing it to leak radioactive water. This month, Japanese authorities disclosed that the power plant is still leaking contaminants.
The Japan Society show features work by 17 artists and photographers. Among the highlights is Takashi Homma’s series Mushrooms from the forest (2011), which shows the now-toxic mushrooms that once heralded the harvest season in the region. A work titled Cesium Cancer Cells, X-Rays, NHK-TV, Tokyo (2011) by the 83-year-old photographer Kikuji Kawada deals with the spike in health defects following the disaster. And a set of images by Naoya Hatakeyama from the series Rikuzentakata (2011-14) documents the photographer’s return to his hometown Tohoku, the now-desolate city that was hit the hardest in the disaster. In one moving piece, titled Kesen-chō (2012), shows the foot of a rainbow landing precisely on the debris of the home that he shared with his mother, who died in the tsunami.
Yoko Ono, Wish Tree. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010. Photo by Anne Terada. Courtesy of Yoko Ono
The show was first organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) in 2015. For New York, it has been expanded to include a floor-to-ceiling installation by the artist Munemasa Takahashi titled Lost & Found that includes nearly 1,000 photographs that were recovered from the debris in Tohoku. Takahashi leads a volunteer group that aims to collect, digitise and return the mostly-damaged found photographs to their respective families. They have returned more than 750,000 pictures so far.
The exhibition also includes the Tokyo-born artist Yoko Ono’s on-going interactive installation Wish Tree (1996 to present). The work invites visitors to tie their written wishes on the branches of an apple tree, which the artist says symbolises hope. When the show closes, the wishes will be buried at the base of Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower on Videy Island in Iceland.