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Visions of Peace

By Rachel Galvin | HUMANITIES, July/August 1998 | Volume 19, Number 4

You won’t find antiwar protest images such as chanting people with raised fists in the Peace Art Show held in New Mexico this summer. Joe Traugott, curator of the Jonson Gallery of the University of New Mexico, says that audiences often mistakenly "equate peace art with protest art." The artists participating in this show, however, are interested in exploring the psychological and social aspects of peace.

"The Peace Art Show is not an apologetic exhibition," project director Tom Powell explains, "but rather one that acknowledges a shared history surrounding the bomb. The purpose of the exhibition is to build bridges between Americans and Japanese, using the metaphors of visual language to communicate."

The term “peace art” was borrowed from the Hiroshima Peace Art Association, which for thirty-nine years has held an annual, week-long exhibition to commemorate the nuclear destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artwork arriving from Japan this August is part of an exchange that began in 1995, when a group of New Mexican artists traveled to Japan to display their peace- related works. The trip coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (July 16, 1945).

On August 21, a group of Japanese artists will complete the exchange by bringing their works and the works of other Japanese artists to the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Some of the artists whose work will appear in the exhibition are hibakusha, or survivors of the nuclear blasts.

The New Mexican artwork brought to Japan in 1995 focused on psychological definitions of peace, spiritual peace, and inner peace, and took on sociological topics such as family, plenty, and harmony. The artwork addressed the effects of the nuclear legacy in New Mexico without making direct references to the nuclear testing at White Sands in 1945, the Los Alamos laboratories (the successors to the Manhattan project), or the uranium mining industry. Tom Powell says that when selecting the work to send to Japan, he chose “images that related stories about ourselves, about who we really are today as Americans and New Mexicans. The artists are storytellers.”

Nineteen Japanese artists and their spouses will arrive in New Mexico this summer on August 21, along with forty contemporary easel paintings from the Hiroshima Peace Art Association and the Nagasaki Exhibition Committee. The contributing artists are retired bureaucrats, professional artists, and working-class artists, and range from thirty to eighty years old. The majority of their paintings are landscapes and still lifes that present metaphors for inner peace. Much of contemporary Japanese peace art eschews didacticism and blatantly political statements; however, one reappearing icon is the A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima, the target of the atomic bomb that managed to survive the attack.

The Peace Art Show will also include ikebana (flower arranging), katazome (stencil dyeing), and shodo (calligraphy), which the visiting artists will demonstrate. The show will run through August 29 and will then be displayed at the Mesa Public Library in Los Alamos, New Mexico, September 5-29. The exhibition and accompanying brochure are sponsored by the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities and coordinated by the Ad Hoc Committee for the Peace Art Show.