Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post #2: Yoko Middle School and Guernica

The Museum of Modern Art in Nagasaki is having a peace exhibit as part of the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb there. Although there were many incredibly moving pieces in that exhibit, one massive painting stood out above the rest.

Its title is "The Present, the Past and the Future" and was painted by 22 students from Yoko Middle School and their teacher. Its imagery is inspired by the history the student learned about the terror of nuclear weapons and war, and also their desire for a peaceful world. The clock which brazenly occupies the middle of the composition is familiar to people from Nagasaki, as various clocks which survived the blast in 1945, were all frozen with their hands at 11:02.

There is one more element which I found very interesting about this painting. Its massive size is identical to the well-known anti-war painting "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso. The shades of grey face on the horror and war side of the painting is inspired from the earliest cubist period of Picasso. "Guernica" was painted in an attempt to inform the world as to the horrible atrocities that were being committed during the Spanish Civil War, in this instance where German forces supporting Franco bombed the town of Guernica. What is most haunting about this image is that the distorted and cubist imagery which was common in Picasso's art, now takes on a political message, whether he intends it or not. The bodies twist around and become grotesque and malformed not out of the artists pure desire to break their forms and bend them to his will, because because of war and violence. The pain of sitting helplessly while people bomb you and destroy you is not simply a sound or anguish or a scream, but is an emotion, a force in the world which rends the skin, hijacks the very shapes of people, threatens to transform them into the violence they are crippled with. The limited hues of the painting are very interesting, since while war absolutely causes chaos, it also sucks the life, the color out of things. An interesting way of testifying to how something crucial or vital is always lost or drained away in a war.

Seeing this piece as its own art, and then seeing these connections to history and to art history made this painting truly inspiring to me. Some closeups of the painting are below, as well as a wide full shot of it, complete with people so you can judge for yourself its scale.

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