Famed Saitama art gallery kicks off fundraising campaign to preserve Hiroshima Panels

by

Kyodo

A gallery in Saitama Prefecture has launched a fundraising campaign to preserve its main exhibit — a series of large panels depicting the horrors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — in the face of damage caused by insects, ultraviolet rays and grit and dust.

Marking the 50th anniversary of its establishment on May 5, the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels also plans to set up archives to collect documents about Iri and Toshi Maruki, the husband-and-wife duo that created the 15 panels, to make the work more accessible to the public.

“We now face difficulties in maintaining the Hiroshima Panels, a representative painting of the 20th century,” Yukinori Okamura, a curator at the gallery said of the exhibit, which has been shown around the world. “It is a great challenge to hand down the common heritage of mankind to the next generation, looking ahead to the next 50 years.”

Okamura said that preparing the archives is also necessary to allow people to further understand the story behind the creation of the painting.

“The archives will include publications on the Marukis, their letters and other documents,” he said. “We plan to launch a multilingual website to open them globally.”

The panels — each standing 1.8 meters by 7.2 meters — were created over 32 years from 1950 based on the experiences of the Marukis, who visited Hiroshima shortly after the 1945 atomic bombing. The couple opened the gallery in 1967 in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, to house them.

The panel series starts with “Ghosts,” which depicts people walking like spirits with their arms extended in front of them, after their clothes were burned off and skin peeled by the atomic bombing.

They also include “Death of American Prisoners of War,” focusing on U.S. POWs who were killed in the bombing or by Japanese captors, and “Crows,” which illustrates discriminatory treatment of Korean atomic bomb victims and survivors.

Of the 15 panels, 14 are displayed at the Maruki gallery, while “Nagasaki” is owned by the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The Marukis also dealt with other tragic incidents, such as the Nanking Massacre, the Auschwitz concentration camp in present-day Poland, the Battle of Okinawa and the Minamata mercury-poisoning disease, before Iri died in 1995 at the age of 94 and Toshi passed away in 2000 at 87. They were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

Aiming to raise ¥500 million, the gallery hopes to build a new facility in five years’ time, equipped with a humidity and temperature management system, to preserve and exhibit the panels, according to Okamura.

Since its establishment, the gallery has refrained from taking public subsidies or cash from corporations in a bid to operate independently. It also uses solar power to generate enough electricity to provide power to the whole facility.

“We will maintain these current management frameworks in operating the new facility to demonstrate that culture can survive through the support of individual citizens,” Okamura said.

The panels have achieved worldwide recognition, having been shown in more than 20 countries, including exhibitions in China and the United States, as well as nations in Europe and South Africa.

In 2015, some of them were displayed in the U.S. capital for the first time prior to exhibitions in Boston and New York. The events at the three sites attracted more than 10,000 visitors.

Okamura said the significance of the gallery itself has been enhanced since the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.

“More and more young artists have displayed their works at this gallery, which shows the nuclear threat, and visitors to this gallery have followed their subsequent paths,” he said. “I think we have contributed to fostering both artists and audiences.”

For further information, visit the gallery’s website: www.aya.or.jp/~marukimsn/english/indexE.htm