AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 277

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Session 277: The Dark Valley: Japanese Art and the Second World War - Sponsored by JAHF

Organizer: Asato Ikeda, Texas A & M University, Canada

Chair: Ming Tiampo, Carleton University, Japan

This panel investigates the impact of the World War II on Japanese artistic practices. Entwined with issues of war responsibility, contested memories, and artistic culpability, Japanese art during the Fifteen-Year War (1931-1945) has previously been neglected and referred to as “the dark valley.” As recently growing scholarship on this subject shows, however, numerous artists worked for the militarist government, travelling to the war front, painting propaganda, and exhibiting their works in government-sponsored exhibitions. Striking is the degree of transnational activity that took place in the Japanese Empire: the government needed support from colonial elites including artists. Furthermore, the war did not cease to be a concern for Japanese artists in the postwar period. Younger generations of artists regarded art as a means to interrogate Japan’s wartime military aggression and establish a new democratic society. In the panel, Akihisa Kawata and Asato Ikeda examine the liminal era of the 1930s and explore the relationship between urban commercial culture and war art. Aya Louisa McDonald and Motoyuki Kure focus on individual artists (Foujita Tsugouharu, Zhang Shanzi, and Jiang Zhaohe) and consider how they represented warfare and to what end. Lastly, Ming Tiampo investigates postwar artistic practices of body that defied wartime collectivism. This panel will serve as a workshop for five papers that will be included in a forthcoming anthology The Dark Valley: Japanese Art and the Second World War (co-edited by Asato Ikeda, Aya Louisa McDonald, and Ming Tiampo), which includes fifteen essays by specialists in North America, Europe, and Asia.

The social role of war art: Yasukuni Shrine Festivals
Akihisa Kawata, Chiba Institute of Technology, Japan

As much as they are visual representations, artworks are “things.” This dual role was essential for the identity of war art during the Asia-Pacific War. The 1930s, the period when Japan deepened its involvement in the war, was also the time when urban consumer culture reached its peak. Artworks were surrounded by commercial art such as museum exhibitions, department store display, visual illustrations in popular novels, and advertisement posters. As the state control became intensified, various visual images from the commercial culture began to emerge as the subject of war art as well. Meanwhile, the war brought important “things” such as war booty and soldiers’ relics that citizens were expected to pay considerable attention to. How did war art find its identity in this context? I will examine, as a case study, special festivals held by Yasukuni Shrine that enshrines fallen warriors who fought for the nation and consider the social role of art during the war.

“Taisho Chic, Showa Sophistication, or Prelude to Total War? : New Japanese-Style Paintings of the late 1930s”
Asato Ikeda, Texas A & M University, Canada

In an effort to scrutinize the previously neglected field of Japanese art during the Fifteen Year War, I examine a new trend of Japanese-style paintings from the late 1930s, which Japanese art historian Nezaki Mitsuo has called New Japanese-style Paintings. Departing from old traditions, young painters adapted the two-dimensional, abstract visual language of western modernist art and incorporated into it a sign of modernity, the modern girl, or moga. These paintings have recently attracted attention from the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which displayed them in the exhibitions Taisho Chic (2006) and Showa Sophistication (2008) and explained the works as products of democracy, individualism, and capitalism. As the late 1930s is usually associated with economic/social insecurity and the rise of militarism, however, one would wonder if these paintings could be properly understood within the framework of “Taisho chic” or “Show sophistication.” The disjunction between the works and the conceptual framework became most obvious when visitors to Showa Sophistication found an under-kimono from 1934 that had a Nazi swastika on it. What was the relationship between moga and the Nazis, as they shared the same space in the 1930s as well as in the exhibition? I will pursue an alternative reading of the paintings, considering Neo-Japanism of the mid 1930s, the social practice of Gleichschaltung (“forcible coordination”), and the changing nature of moga in the context of the total war. In so doing, my paper will ultimately address a broader question, the question regarding Japan and fascism.

“The War Art of Foujita Tsugouharu 1938-1945”
Louisa McDonald, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA

Foujita Tsugouharu (1886-1968), a Japanese Western-style painter well known in Paris in the 1920s for paintings of elegant nudes, society portraits, and cats, later served his homeland as a war artist from 1938 to 1945. Although one of a large cadre of Japanese painters called by the Japanese military to serve their country, Foujita took the lead in the early stages of the war winning popular support and national honors like the Asahi Cultural Prize for his dynamic war canvases. However, as the fortunes of war began to reverse and Japanese losses began to accumulate, Foujita’s popularity as a war artist declined and the work of younger artists like Miyamoto Saburou rose in the state and the public’s estimation. After Japan’s defeat and occupation in 1945, in a curious incident infamous in the postwar art world, Foujita was allegedly denounced as a war criminal by the art community and banished from Japan. During his roughly 6-year career as a war artist Foujita produced approximately 20 major canvases of which the greater majority survive in excellent condition and are kept, on indefinite loan from the United States, in the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art. This paper identifies and explores several distinct stages in the evolution and development of Foujita’s war art, and examines a small but representative selection of this body of work from three intersecting perspectives: 1) their value and significance as wartime propaganda, 2) their aesthetic value, and 3) their personal significance to the artist.

“Roaring Tigers or Miserable Refugees? : Chinese ink Paintings in the Sino-Japanese War”
Kure Motoyuki, Independent Scholar, Japan

What are the masterpieces of 20th century China war painting? In contrast with the vast quantity of propaganda painting from after 1949 in circulation, very little remains from the Republican era. Even more striking is the fact that those paintings depart significantly from the orthodox style of war paintings, which prevailed in the West and Japan, except for works by Liang Dingming and Wang Shikuo. During the Sino-Japanese War, the most popular form of propaganda art was not oil painting, but avant-garde woodcut prints pioneered by Lu Xun. Traditional Chinese ink paintings made by patriotic intellectuals also took responsibility for representing warfare. This paper will focus on Chinese ink painters Zhang Shanzi (1882-1940) and Jiang Zhaohe (1904-86), and analyze how they represent warfare in China. Zhang Shanzi, elder brother of famous ink painter Zhang Daqian, drew 28 roaring tigers on a giant scale, entitled Roar China! and toured the work through the U. S. to raise donations for the fight against Japan. For Zhang, as for many Chinese traditional artists, it was preferable not to represent warfare directly, and to use metaphors to appeal to their audiences. In contrast, Jiang Zhaohe, a student of Chinese oil painting master Xu Beihong, drew a life-sized ink scroll of Chinese refugees in Japanese occupied Beiping (Beijing), presenting Japanese people with a miserable image of China. This comparison will be made through the lens of the two artists’ political allegiances, considering questions of style and content as treated by the patriot Zhang and ambiguous Japanese collaborator Jiang in an effort to figure out the complicated cultural situation in wartime China.

“Body, War, and the Discourses of History: Rethinking Postwar Japanese Art”
Ming Tiampo, Carleton University, Japan

This paper uses the body as a lens through which to understand shifts in consciousness that emerge in the buildup to the Anpo crisis of 1960, and again in the context of anti-Vietnam war activism. I investigate the Left’s discourse of the Anpo ’60 period as a response to America’s Cold War dominance in Asia and point to its identification with both the victims of the atomic bomb and national liberation movements in Asia and Africa. Considering the work of Tōmatsu Shomei, Hi Red Center, and Yoko Ono, I will argue that a new vision of the body emerges in the Anpo ’60 period that is suffering, passive, and victimized. I gesture towards yet another shift in the representation of the body that emerges in the context of anti-war discourses of the Vietnam War. Critiquing the victim-consciousness of the Anpo ’60 period, Beheiren (Citizens’ League for Peace in Vietnam, Betonamu ni Heiwa o Shimin Rengō) defined a new ethical perspective that abandoned Japan’s special purchase on atomic suffering as a cipher of peace, and re-envisioned political action as active rather than passive, and the suffering body as that of the individual, regardless of country of origin. Examining the late murals of Maruki Toshi and Iri, I consider how the body of the victim ceases to be particularly Japanese, how the categories of victim and victimizer are broken down and, consequently, how the victim is held responsible for his actions.