Opportunities to see artworks by Yoshitomo Nara have increased dramatically in recent weeks — and it’s not just because of his exhibition, “a bit like you and me…,” which is at the Yokohama Museum of Art through Sept. 23.
Nara has long been opposed to nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and several of his paintings over the years have featured resolute-looking young girls holding signs reading “No Nukes.” One of those paintings in particular, now known as “No Nukes Girl,” has started to crop up at rallies being held around the country to oppose the use of nuclear power.
“That painting has a history of being used in demonstrations,” Nara explains. “It first happened in 1997, right after I painted it. A friend sent a photo of someone carrying a printout of the picture at a rally against nuclear weapons in Bangkok. I had no idea about it.”
Nara said he’s not opposed to the use of his paintings in this way — as long as it is on an individual basis.
“I painted that picture as an individual — it was one individual’s response to society, so if other individuals want to use it to express themselves then that is fine,” he says. “It’d be different if it was some group that had commissioned me to do a painting for a specific cause. I don’t think I could do that.”
Something similar to that happened recently, though. Musician Ryuichi Sakamoto contacted Nara asking if would provide a painting for the cover of a booklet he was preparing to accompany his “No Nukes 2012” music festival, which was held in Chiba Prefecture earlier this month.
“With that, I didn’t want to make a new painting on request, but I was happy to let them use my new painting ‘Miss Spring,'” Nara says, naming a work that is the centerpiece of his current exhibition at Yokohama. “I made that work while I was thinking about the March 11 disaster and the ensuing nuclear crisis, so it made sense to me that they use it.”