Whenever traveling directly from one island in the Seto Inland Sea to another, I sense threads holding each one to the other. Perhaps this is a vestige of the trade routes that traversed the 700-plus islands in this scenic region between Hiroshima and Osaka. As sea trade waned in postwar Japan, these threads have become almost invisible, but artists such as Erika Masuya envision links connecting one island to another today.
Amid realities such as populations half of what they used to be and just as many abandoned hotels as operating ones, empty houses are often easier to find than inhabited ones on these islands. Starting in the 1990s Benesse Corporation founder Soichiro Fukutake saw the possibility art held for revitalizing the landscapes that are at risk of vanishing in the Inland Sea.
Fukutake not only brought his own art collection to Naoshima but also invited artists to make new works in response to the region. Two decades later, a gigantic art festival was coordinated with the help and expertise of community art specialist Fram Kitagawa. Since the first Setouchi International Art Festival in 2010, connections between local community groups, regional governments and national networks have blossomed.