Saitama – A series of famous paintings by a couple who witnessed the aftermath of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima is set to be restored for the first time, 71 years after the first work in the series was released.
The set of 15 works titled “The Hiroshima Panels” by the late Iri and Toshi Maruki, who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, have severely deteriorated and become moth-eaten over the years.
“We want to pass on (the works) from generation to generation so that the tragedy of the atomic bombing will never happen again,” said Yukinori Okamura, the curator of the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, where the collection is preserved.
Each work, presented on 1.8-meter tall panels that together are 7.2 meters wide, is based on the Marukis’ experience of going to Hiroshima just days after the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing and the scenes they reconstituted by gathering stories from survivors.
The couple released a total of 15 pieces between 1950 and 1982 based on their experience of walking through the burnt wasteland while exposed to residual radiation. Fourteen are exhibited at the gallery.
“Ghosts,” the first panel of the series made public five years after the end of the war, is set to be restored at a cost of several million yen using funds from the gallery’s savings.
The piece, which shows people walking with their arms extended in front of them after their clothes were incinerated and skin badly burned, will be folded and sent for restoration at an Aichi University of the Arts institution, with a duplicate to be exhibited in the interim.
As news coverage of the atomic bombing was censored during the occupation of Japan by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers, the husband-and-wife artists chose to focus on the cities’ inhabitants in their works.
The piece was completed after ink painter Iri inked clear-cut figures drawn by oil painter Toshi.
They spent more than 30 years creating the set depicting the horrors of the U.S. atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
“This is the first time that A-bomb survivors have been visually depicted to this extent, so it has great historical significance,” said Okamura, adding that the gallery hopes to restore other panels in turn if funds allow.
The Marukis released the second panel of the series, “Fire,” and its third panel, “Water,” in 1950, and actively held touring exhibitions, attracting nearly 650,000 people at 51 locations by November 1951.
In 1953, exhibitions were also held in Europe and Asia, and the couple was awarded the Gold Medal by the World Peace Council the same year.
The couples’ artwork did not only focus on the Japanese as victims, but also depicts the suffering inflicted by the Japanese. “The Death of American Prisoners of War” shows American POWs who were assaulted by the Japanese after the bombing in Hiroshima, and “Crows” illustrates the discriminatory treatment of Koreans.
The Marukis also dealt with other war-related subjects, such as the Nanking Massacre, the Auschwitz extermination camp, and the Battle of Okinawa, before Iri died in 1995 at the age of 94, followed by Toshi in 2000 at 87.
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