Cuba block prints to be displayed

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo News

Tama Art University Museum in Tokyo will exhibit 40-year-old block prints expressing the ideas of the Declaration of Havana of September 1960.

The exhibition from this Saturday to May 23 “will show the social conditions in Cuba in those days and how artists expressed them,” said Hiromichi Kobayashi, the museum’s curator. “The block prints are also considered valuable historical materials.”

Created by 12 Cuban artists, the block prints were brought to Japan by prominent painter Taeko Tomiyama following her trip to Asia, Africa and Latin America in the early 1960s.

“I got them amid the confusion of the Cuban crisis from a leader of Cuban artists, who told me to promote the declaration after coming back to Japan,” said Tomiyama, 88.

While the 40 prints have not been put on formal display since then, the university museum, which has supported exhibitions of Tomiyama’s paintings at home and abroad, has decided to display them on the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the declaration. The Cuban revolution had taken place the previous year.

Tomiyama visited coal mines all over Japan at the time to report on the harsh labor and living conditions of mine workers through her paintings, and one of the aims of her overseas trip was “to meet with coal miners who moved to Latin America from Japan’s coal-mining towns.”

With financial support from some major news media in exchange for her reports as a roving correspondent, as well as money from other sources, she followed the paths of colonization during her trip.

“It was just like walking in history to travel from Asia to Africa to Cuba,” she said.

Several of the 40 works feature the hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan in the United States and the swastika of the Nazi Party as symbols of oppression, accompanied by words expressing the ideals of the declaration, such as “liberty” and “humanism.”

Masakuni Ota, a researcher in Latin America, is supporting the exhibition.

“New movements erupted in the fields of art and film in Cuba after it started following the path toward independence. The block prints present the outburst of (artistic) energy and the reality of the time,” Ota said.

Tomiyama, who spent her childhood in Dalian and Harbin, China, has produced paintings on various themes such as wartime sex slavery and the democratic movement in South Korea. She now devotes her time to works depicting the lives of Afghan people affected by the war.