Art exhibition draws link between two nuclear disasters

February 13, 2013

By RYOTA GOTO/ Staff Writer

Despite the title, the paintings on display in "Thinking of Fukushima--downwind villages" are not of villagers whose lives were uprooted by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Instead, they depict victims of another catastrophic nuclear accident, one that happened 27 years ago and half a world away.

Artist Hiroshi Kaihara, who died of parotid gland cancer in 2005 at 57, visited Belarus in 1992 and sketched the lives of the people in a village affected by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

Twenty original pictures owned by his widow, Ritsuko Serata, will be on display at the exhibit, which runs Feb. 14-20 in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.

Kaihara wrote about the villagers in the foreword of the book "Kazashimo no Mura" (Downwind villages): "There are people called 'samosely' (self-settlers) in Russian. It means 'selfish people' who have returned to their villages in designated no-entry zones or who have stayed there."

The collection of sketches was published in 2010, a year before the Fukushima crisis flared. The book is out of print.

Kaihara, a graduate of what is now Tokyo University of the Arts, was a prominent designer and artist.

He first entered Belarus in 1992, when it was still in the grip of high levels of radioactive contamination. He visited the country frequently and drew the life of villagers.

"As an artist, all I can do is draw and paint. Through my pictures, I want to tell the Japanese the current situation about Chernobyl," Serata quoted him as saying.

Serata, 58, says she cannot help but think what it would be like if her husband were still alive.

"I wish he could come back and speak a word or two," she said. "I want viewers to feel that those people live lives that are inseparable from the earth."

The exhibition is organized by a group led by Masayo Nasu, 68, a homemaker in Shinjuku Ward and a friend of Serata's.

Nasu said she was impressed by Kaihara's works at an exhibition held last summer in Nara Prefecture. Borrowing pictures from Serata, she and her group members are finally able to hold their own exhibition.

The group provided all of the money needed to hold the exhibition, which cost about 300,000 yen ($3,185), including the rental fee for the room and making pamphlets. The exhibit will be set up by the members, Nasu said.

About 1,000 people visited a similar exhibition of Kaihara's works that Nasu helped organize from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

"I often regret that I was not able to do anything when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck," Nasu said when asked why she is eager to hold the exhibition. "Through Chernobyl, I want the Japanese people to continue to think of the nuclear accident that occurred in Japan. I fear that, after two years, its memories are fading."

Also on display will be 45 photos from photographer Takashi Morizumi's book, "Fukushima Daiichi Genpatsu Kazashimo no Mura" (Downwind village of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant).

Morizumi has been visiting Iitate and other communities affected by the Fukushima accident. Even though Iitate is located outside the Fukushima plant's 20-kilometer no-entry zone, it was severely affected by the release of radioactive substances, forcing all the villagers to evacuate.

The exhibition is being held at the Shinjuku Ward citizens gallery. Admission is free.

By RYOTA GOTO/ Staff Writer
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Masayo Nasu shows the late artist Hiroshi Kaihara’s “Grandmothers of Belarus” at the Shinjuku Ward citizens gallery. (Ryota Goto)

Masayo Nasu shows the late artist Hiroshi Kaihara’s “Grandmothers of Belarus” at the Shinjuku Ward citizens gallery. (Ryota Goto)

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  • Masayo Nasu shows the late artist Hiroshi Kaihara’s “Grandmothers of Belarus” at the Shinjuku Ward citizens gallery. (Ryota Goto)
  • "No. 4 reactor" by Hiroshi Kaihara, who sketched villagers and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident  (From the exhibition website)

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