Like many of you, Jen & I have friends and family who are coping with the aftermath of the disaster in Japan. I have distant relatives there. Some of the artists we work with through our art company, nAscent Art New York, have roots, family, and friends in Japan, including Rica Bando and Yuko Ueda.
As we struggle to comprehend the immensity of the catastrophe, The Bare Square today investigates the human need for understanding, and for hope, and how art sometimes can play a role.
Many Americans feel a special empathy for those suffering the repercussions of the earthquake and tsunami in Sendai. America has had a long, friendly relationship with Japan for decades. It’s estimated that over 1.2 million people of Japanese descent live in the United States, the second largest population of Japanese outside Japan in the world. And, as recently as 2005, the US suffered from a disaster of comparable scope: Hurricane Katrina.
After the waters receded from the Gulf Coast, people turned resolutely to the task of putting their lives back together. Contributing in their way, artists helped deal with the emotional toll by creating artwork, stories of loss and hope, of struggle and human resilience.
One notable example included the exhibit, Backyards and Beyond. Featuring the artwork of artist and Mississipi-native H.C. Porter, the exhibit “beautifully weave[d] the faces and voices of diversity with commonalities of loss and hope.” The exhibit traveled nationally in 2008, and a portion of the proceeds went toward rebuilding efforts in the area.
The Bare Square interviewed Porter, and she expressed her goal of the exhibit as “trying to capture the human emotion felt in a natural disaster.”
“Being an artist is secondary,” Porter continued. ”First I am an individual, there to hug, listen and validate their loss… but as an artist I am also able to tell their story. The people of Japan need to know that somebody is listening. By somebody listening, they find the beginning of healing.”
Three years after Hurricane Katrina, Porter saw progress and hope realized. “At the Backyards and Beyond exhibition, as the Gulf Coast residents looked back at the moment captured in their portrait, and they could see their process of recovery. Knowing they had been heard was a large part of their rebirth. I hope the people of Japan have the same experience,” she said.
Meanwhile, the reports continue to overwhelm. “I can’t even imagine the devastation they’re standing in, sifting through what pieces are left. Right now, I imagine they’re in absolute shock,” Porter said.
Art can make a difference, not just for professional artists for whom art is a living, but as an outlet of expression for the everyday person, as a way to understand and cope with feelings of loss, and as a way to remember.
For Japan, the process of recovery will be long and slow. We take solace in the knowledge that the Japanese people are strong and resilient, and that this, too, shall pass.
[Editor's Note: We dedicate this edition of The Bare Square to those who lost their lives, and to those who must now find a way to survive. We will donate all profits from prints sold at The Bare Square Store from now until Friday to the Sendai quake disaster relief efforts of the Red Cross. If you want to donate directly to the Red Cross, you can use the online form available at the Red Cross website. You can also send a donation to the Red Cross via SMS text message through most wireless carriers. Find details for text donations here. Please share this article with your friends.]
Update: The interview with H.C. Porter came after the initial publication. The Bare Square would like to thank H.C. for her comments and work. See her website here.