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Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 10:20:16 AM
by dinesh kumar maganathan
'Counting Grains Of Sands' by Hiromi Tsuchida.
Travelling photography exhibition seeks to show the modern divide in Japan.
JAPAN is a country all of us are familiar with. It is the land of sushi and Hello Kitty. It is the birthplace of the infamous Godzilla and kids will tell you, the birthplace of Ultraman. And who can forget the dreadful WWII bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
So, yes, we know Japan very well indeed … or do we?
Does anyone know how an ordinary citizen of Japan lives? Can anyone speak with authority on the mundane and simple things about this country? Perhaps, our view and understanding of Japan is one of myopia and it this very situation that the latest art exhibition by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) wishes to challenge.
Entitled rather appropriately Gazing At The Contemporary World, this exhibition of photographs by some of the most noted photographers of Japan such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Norio Kobayashi will give visitors an intimate look at Japan – from the 1970s to 2006 – through the gaze and lens of these photographers.
Indeed, the subtitle “Japanese Photography From The 1970s To The Present” points to this underlying theme, the single thread as it were, that holds this exhibition together.
“The theme of the exhibition, as the title suggests, is to show how the photographers looked at their era and time in regards to the society and the people. There are two parts to this exhibition. The first part is entitled “Changing Society”’ and it focuses more on people,” explained Mio Yachita, JKFL’s Head of Cultural Affairs Department, in a recent interview.
“It is the photographers’ gaze on what the society is and how it is changing and how their everyday lives look like. The second part is entitled “Changing Landscape” and it focuses on landscapes such as suburban areas and developments.”
The art enthusiast added that the exhibition’s goal is to highlight the ordinary and everyday life in Japan with the country’s development from the 1970s to the early 2000s as the backdrop.
Yachita said the photographers had captured how the Japanese society changed over time and through that, expressed “how they were feeling about the society. It is not through some higher viewpoint but through the people’s viewpoint. You will see that most of the photographs show the ordinary Japan. It’s not about the prime minister or the emperor or some big events.”
And ordinary they were. One only has to walk into the exhibition space, the Kuala Lumpur Library, and immediately, one will realise no neon colours of Tokyo’s nightlife or breathtaking skyscrapers meets the eye. In the vast, expansive space of the gallery, the photographs are almost negligible, mere frames of blacks and whites on the wall.
But the moment you stop and gaze into each of the photographs, a different world swims into view. A Japan that is not so common to most of us, the ordinary Japan, emerges and at once, you will begin to appreciate the genius of the photographers and their innate ability to capture the simple when mega changes were rapidly happening around them.
“We are using art photography as a medium to show how dynamic the Japanese society was from the 1970s to the early 2000s. It is an aesthetic exhibition but it’s also very meaningful for us to do this exhibition in many countries so that your image of Japan will become more diverse. It’s not only about Samurai or eating sushi!” Yachita jested.
This travelling exhibition, which began in 2007, has been to, among others, Lithuania, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Honduras and Mongolia.
One of the notable photographs at the exhibition is the “Ice Box” series by Tokuko Ushioda. A series of four photos, two from 1988 and two from 1989, “Ice Box” is simply about, as the title suggests, refrigerators. The first photo shows a closed fridge at a home and the second photo shows the same fridge but opened, revealing all that is inside the fridge.
So, what is so special about these refrigerators? Yes, the photographers have captured the ordinary life in Japan and that is the theme of the exhibition but what can one learn about the changing society in Japan through photographs of refrigerators?
“These pictures are in line with the changing society section of the exhibition because the refrigerator tells a lot about your family culture, like what’s inside, how packed it is and how many notes are stuck on the door,” shared Yachita.
As for the “Changing Landscape” section, besides photographs of developments around Japan and the construction of building and bridges, one powerful picture is that of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Photographed by Ryuji Miyamoto and named Kobe 1995 After the Earthquake, Yachita reasoned that not only developments marked the changes that were happening in Japan but this earthquake was a big punctuation mark in the developmental history of the country.
It is always good to pause and look back through the veil of time at how a country has changed over the years. And the Gazing At The Contemporary World exhibition depicts just that.
Japan, as we know it, immediately changes before our very eyes, seen through the lens of these photographers. And even as we drive or walk to this gallery, adjacent to Dataran Merdeka and overlooking the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, you cannot but reminisce on how much our very own country has changed.
> The Gazing At The Contemporary World: Japanese Photography From The 1970s To The Present exhibition is on at the KL Library, No.1, Jalan Raja (next to Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur from now until Oct 30. Opening times: Monday 2pm-6.45pm; Tuesday-Friday, 10am-6.45pm; Saturday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Closed on first weekend of the month. The exhibition moves to Muzium & Galeri Tunku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang from Nov 8 till Dec 14. Admission is free.
Tags / Keywords:
Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, photograhy exhibition, Gazing At The Contemporary World, Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Norio Kobayash
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