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NAGASAKI NIGHTMARE
Art of the Hibakusha (Atom Bomb Survivors). Essay by artist, Mark Vallen.

August 6th, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the Atomic Bombing of Japan. This collection of art was created by the Japanese who were at the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki... and lived to paint and draw their memories on canvas and paper.

[ Left: "Evening Glow over Hiroshima," woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi.]

On August 6th. 1945, at precisely 8:15 in the morning, the U.S. detonated an Atomic Bomb over the city of Hiroshima. Three days later on August 9th, at precisely 11:02 in the morning - a second Bomb was exploded over the city of Nagasaki. The Japanese called it pikadon (flash-boom). There was a blinding flash of light brighter than the sun, followed by a tremendous shock wave and a searing blast of heat. Huge poisonous mushroom clouds ascended into the sky and a deadly radioactive black rain fell. Those at the center of the blasts were incinerated, leaving only their shadows behind. Others were crushed flat by the concussion of the blasts. Those within a mile and a half of the explosions died from unimaginable burns and intense radiation.

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Those who survived the blasts became known as hibakusha (Atom Bomb Survivors). Weeks after the explosions, even those who where uninjured began to succumb to a terrible plague. Those affected would loose their hair and purple spots would erupt on their skin. Vomiting, diarrhea, and uncontrollable bleeding from the gums was followed by death. At the time the Japanese did not realize they were dying from radiation sickness, instead they imagined they were in some Buddhist Hell. The atomic age began in 1945 with the pulverizing of two major urban centers and the vaporization of some 200,000 human beings. Sadly, hibakusha in Japan are still dying today from their radiation induced sicknesses and wounds.

August 6th, 2015, marks the 70th Anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; solemn commemorations will take place in a world now bristling with thousands of nuclear weapons. Britain, France, Israel, China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all possess weapons of mass destruction many times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. Any use of such weapons would result in untold civilian casualties.

In 2011 the Obama administration conducted tests to "examine the effectiveness" of U.S. nuclear weapons. In his fiscal year 2016 budget, President Obama allocated $73 billion to "modernize" the U.S. nuclear arsenal; credible studies conclude the actual cost of updating America's atomic weapons might run as high as $1 trillion. A war may yet break out over Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons; and let us not fool ourselves, the new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia could easily spin out of control and culminate in a nuclear conflagration.

 
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The paintings comprising this exhibition are sober reminders of the reality of atomic warfare, created by people who actually lived through an atomic holocaust. The artworks came about in 1974, when a survivor presented a hand drawn picture to the office of Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK - Japan Broadcasting Corporation). That single drawing was broadcast on Japanese television and soon a flood of thousands of drawings by other hibakusha began to arrive at the offices of NHK. An exhibition of the collected paintings and drawings was mounted at the Peace Culture Center of Hiroshima in 1975, and since that time the artworks have been compiled into several books and traveling exhibitions.

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Some of those materials were placed into my hands in 1984, when I had the great honor of meeting Barbara Reynolds. Miss Reynolds (who passed away in 1990) was a Quaker peace activist who had lived in Hiroshima for some 15 years. She was devoted to the cause of world peace and dedicated much of her life's work to spreading the message of the hibakusha. Miss Reynolds entrusted me with a rare copy of a book little known in the West, Hiroshima Nagasaki - A Pictorial Record of the Atomic Destruction. (published in Japan in 1978 by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Publishing Committee). That book is an exhaustive, encyclopedic work that details in chilling photographs what actually occured at ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (some of the hibakusha artworks contained in the book form the basis for this exhibition).

Miss Reynolds also assisted me in bringing the hibakusha artworks to the United States. With her gracious help I was able to mount a Los Angeles Gallery Exhibition in 1984 of some 50 hibakusha artworks (a few of those images also appear on these pages). The majority of artworks presented here were created by non-professional artists, with the exception being three selections by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

Already established artists at the time of the bombings, Iri and Toshi traveled to Hiroshima three days after the blast, and what they found forever change their lives. The artists were haunted by the unbelievable carnage, and three years later they began to draw and paint the hell they had glimpsed. The result of their efforts were the monumental Hiroshima Panels, one of the most profound works of art from the 20th Century. Every bit as impressive as Picasso's famous mural, Guernica, the panels by the Maruki's (now deceased), are on display in a special museum located in Hiroshima.

 

USEFUL LINKS

Artist Keiji Nakazawa was seven years old when the Atomic Bomb fell on his home in Hiroshima. He later became an artist and created the manga (visual novel) known as Hadashi no Gen, or "Barefoot Gen" in English. It was an autobiographical comic first published in 1972 that was eventually made into an anime released in 1983. In 1985 I was among a handful of people that viewed the film's U.S. premiere in Los Angeles at the Buddhist Higashi Hongwanji Temple in the historic Little Tokyo district of L.A. In this excerpted scene from the English language version of the anime, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is depicted in extreme graphic detail.
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In 1978 the husband and wife team of Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita created the short anime titled Pikadon, or "Flash Blast" in English. Less than 10 minutes long, the anime dispenses with a story and dialog and simply depicts the blast and its effect on the population of Hiroshima. Unlike Barefoot Gen, Pikadon was never released in the U.S.; it remains an underground film of sorts that was shared on VHS tape. Incomplete video copies of bad quality are available on YouTube, but I have selected the best quality version for you to view.

History of the Hiroshima Panels. An overview of the antiwar murals created by artists Iri and Toshi Maruki.
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The Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels in Japan houses the murals created by Iri and Toshi Maruki.
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Official webpage of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
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Official webpage of the Japanese A-Bomb Museum.
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In the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombings, the United States sent film crews to record the destruction. The resulting footage was so shocking that the U.S. kept the film secret for 30 years - fearing that it would cast doubt upon its use of atomic bombs. In July of 2011, Greg Mitchell published a book on the subject titled "Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki and The Greatest Movie Never Made". Google pulled the book's online video trailer advertisment, claiming that it "promotes violence." The Raw Story website covered the controversy.

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