By Alana Dore, deputy inside editor

This spring, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is commemorating Japanese culture with its Japanese Spring Program. Home to the world’s largest collection of Japanese art outside of Japan, the MFA has opened several new exhibits that depict both 19th-century and contemporary Japanese styles in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the museum’s Asian Art Department.

In the downstairs Ann and Graham Gund Gallery, where the infamous Chihuly exhibit was stationed in 2011, Katsushika Hokusai’s journey as an artist is on display. The Hokusai exhibit includes over 230 works from the first internationally-recognized Japanese artist. These works, which span his entire seven-decade career, include his iconic woodblock print, “Under the Wave off Kanagawa” (“the Great Wave”).

The collection starts with his earlier works, Hokusai Manga “Hokusai Sketchbooks,” which feature action characters. Hokusai’s work mostly explores landscape and nature, and the collection includes all of the prints in his “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” collection, the first time the MFA has ever had all 36 of the prints on display together.

“The first museum exhibition of Hokusai’s work anywhere in the world was Hokusai and His School, held at the MFA from 1892-93. Today, more than 120 years later, we are proud to present a comprehensive Hokusai retrospective drawn entirely from the MFA’s own collection of Japanese art,” Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director at the MFA, said in a press release on March 4.

One of the most populated rooms in the exhibit houses a step-by-step reproduction of “the Great Wave.” Two videos mounted on either side of the carvings explained the process of carving and printing with woodblocks. After watching the video, many spectators decided to return to “the Great Wave” to view it with a newfound sense of respect and appreciation.

“I really liked the video of how the printmaking worked,” sophomore business and English double major Alexandra Forzato said.

“It helped me to visualize the process, and it made me feel more connected to the piece.”

The majority of the gallery boasted woodprints outlined in black and white with splashes of blue and terra-cotta pigment.

In the upstairs Henry and Lois Foster Gallery, other Japanese artists explored their culture in a different way. “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11” includes over 100 works from 17 of Japan’s greatest photographers.

The exhibit records these artists’ responses to the triple disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011. That day, the northeast region of Japan was destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami, both of such large magnitudes that they caused the Fukushima power plant to fail. The exhibition is split into two sections, one focusing on the natural disaster and the other on the Fukushima failure.

This powerful and haunting exhibit explores the destruction of the region in a variety of ways. While many artists photographed the wreckage, many others chose to capture the pain in a more metaphorical sense.

According to the exhibit, one artist, Lieko Shiga, found herself distracted while taking photographs along the beach following the tsunami. She started to dig holes in the sand. These holes then became the centerpieces for her photography and helped her to heal. Some of her earlier works depict large, concentric circles along the beach in her hometown of Kitakama. These beachside images contrastively help to depict what was lost in the disaster and are especially powerful when displayed alongside each other.

“They say that memories fade, but it’s true; you really do forget … It’s the fourth year now, already,” artist Nobuyoshi Araki wrote in a blurb displayed beside his photographs. “But, you know, photographs have that appeal – they’re like some kind of optical illusion that makes things from however many years ago seem like just yesterday. They’ve got that power.”

One of the most disturbing pieces is a compilation of actual news footage of the tsunami, most of which is shot from a helicopter, in which cars, buildings and the countryside are slowly wiped away. The purpose of this piece, and the others in the room, is to express the role that photography plays in international disasters.

Another room of the exhibit features a lost-and-found installation. Family and personal photographs salvaged from the tsunami debris were restored following the disaster. Many were returned to survivors, but the leftover images are hung on display, not only commemorating those whose lives were lost but also offering commentary on the everlasting nature of memory.

“The piece ‘Lost and Found’ captivated my attention almost immediately. It is hard for me to understand the level of struggling that took place after 3/11, and the amount of what was lost by the Japanese residents affected, but seeing how all these photographs don’t have a home anymore is heartbreaking,” Gabby Carboni, a local artist said. “The past is a very powerful tool, especially in art … These photographs have been brought together as a symbol of the common struggle. It shows an ability to band together and rebuild strength as a community. It shows that the experience of those affected can be shared so that no one is alone in their struggling.”

“In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11” is on display from April 5 to July 12, and the Katsushika Hokusai exhibit is on display from April 5 to August 9. Admission to the museum is free with a student ID.


Photo by Brian Bae