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Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age

Curated by Yasuko Claremont

An exhibition that draws on a deep history of artistic expression to bring attention back to the continued threat of nuclear war, unmitigated expansion in the use of nuclear technology, nuclear accidents and the impacts of nuclear testing.

7 April - 14 May 2022


The exhibition Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age takes place more than 75 years after the nuclear catastrophe caused by the US atomic bombing of the Japanese civilian populations in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki in August 1945. Over the subsequent decades, reactions to these and many other nuclear atrocities have spurred a wide range of resistance, protest, documentation and artistic expressions. The exhibition draws on this deep history of commentary to bring attention back to the continued threat of nuclear war, unmitigated expansion in the use of nuclear technology, nuclear accidents and the impacts of nuclear testing. The crisis in Ukraine is another terrible reminder of the nuclear knife-edge on which the world is precariously balanced.

The works on display cross several generations of artists, individuals, communities and organisations from Japan, Australia and the Pacific. Major works include a full-size replica of the Hiroshima Panel ‘Fire’ (1950) by Iri and Toshi Maruki, rarely seen outside of Japan;  a powerful series of paintings by women from Yalata, ‘Life Lifted into the Sky’, representing the impact of British nuclear testing at Maralinga, South Australia, on First Nations Australians, and Sydney based artist, Merilyn Fairskye’s photographic series ‘Plant Life (Chernobyl)’.

The exhibition aims to encourage viewers to reflect on the potency of both art and activism, to overcome popular complacency, to arouse empathy for the victims, incite resistance to the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to force us to ask the momentous questions: What have we done? What can we do now?

Exhibition Team: Paul Brown, Judith Keene, Elizabeth Rechniewski, Roman Rosenbaum

Photos by Isabella Moore ©2022


Online Symposium - 7 May 2022

Building on the momentum of grassroots campaigns in Australia, Japan and across the globe, the symposium invites participants to explore the political and cultural shifts that have accompanied the transition to a nuclear world since the 1940s, and the current achievement of the United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons that took effect on 22 January 2021. 

Discussion panels led by Okamura Yukinori, curator at Maruki Gallery, Maralinga Tjarutja artists, ICAN founders, Allan Marett and Yuki Tanaka on modern Noh performance.

Program

Panel 1: 非核芸術の系譜 (Past and Contemporary Visual Atomic Art)
Presented in Japanese with English PowerPoint
(日本語でのプレゼンテーション ・ パワーポイント英語添付)
Speaker: Yukinori Okamura (岡村幸宣)
Interpreter: Roman Rosenbaum
Chair: Yasuko Claremont

Panel 2: Atomic Art by Australian First Nations artists
Speakers: Mima Smart OAM and other painters from Yalata community
Chair: Paul Brown

Panel 3: ICAN and Civil Anti-Nuclear Movements
Speakers: Tilman Ruff, Dimity Hawkins and Gem Romuld
Chair: Liz Rechniewski    

Panel 4: The Power of Traditional Japanese Noh Theatre in the Nuclear Age
Speakers: Allan Marett, Yuki Tanaka
Chair: Yasuko Claremont

Artist Talk

Merilyn Fairskye with Paul Brown, “Long Life: the Slow Violence of Radiation”

Saturday 23 April, 2:30-4pm, Tin Sheds Gallery & Theatre

Playground, 2010 by Merilyn Fairskye. From the Plant Life (Chernobyl) series. Pigment print, Courtesy the artist. 

Sydney-based artist, Merilyn Fairskye will present her new project Long Life, bringing together the range of her work on life and death in the nuclear age, produced after visiting Chernobyl, Ukraine; The Polygon, Kazakhstan; Sellafield, UK, and nuclear sites in Russia, New Mexico and Australia. The challenge is how to make the (nuclear) world felt. And in doing so, perhaps disturb the way we think about this world. In discussion with creative producer, Paul Brown, they will reflect on the relationship between artistic practice, aesthetics and the political.

Manga Seminar

Roman Rosenbaum, “Manga as Nuclear Art: Contemporary Perspectives of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

Saturday 30 April, 2.30 to 4.00pm, Tin Sheds Gallery & Theatre

Detail from Kōno Fumiyo's manga series, In This Corner of the World, 2007-09. Courtesy © Futabasha , Kōno Fumiyo

Tracing the earliest manifestation of the atom bomb in comics from censored Superman comics to their Australian antipodean counterpart in Captain Atom, this seminar presentation traces the lineage of graphic novels addressing the nuclear age via Nakazawa Keiji’s seminal countercultural classic Barefoot Gen, until the appearance of the transgenerational drawings by Kōno Fumiyo’s In This Corner of the World. Leading up to the yearly commemorations of these traumatic events several new works have appeared that seek to reshape the narrative of the atomic bombs. The latest works by Takeo Aoki Hiroshima’s Revival (2016) and Didier Alcante La Bombe (The bomb, 2020) will be discussed in some detail. 

Top image: Maralinga by Mima Smart and Rita Bryant, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artists and Yalata Womens Centre

This exhibition and series of events was assisted by the Australian-Japan Foundation and the University of Sydney Chancellor’s Committee Grant

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