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Fukushima: An artist's view 10 years later

Anja Freyhoff-King | Aimie Eliot
March 11, 2021

Japanese artist and filmmaker Hikaru Fujii told DW about the importance of embedding the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in public memory.

Japan Fukushima  Dai-ichi Kernkraftwerk
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Hanai

Ten years ago, the Japanese prefecture witnessed an earthquake and tsunami that triggered an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant, causing a nuclear disaster whose effects were only preceded by those in Chernobyl in 1986.

In its aftermath, artist and filmmaker Hikaru Fujii documented the political and ecological crisis that resulted from the collapse of the nuclear plant. Fuji, who believes that artistic production implies a close relationship between history and society, created the project "Les nucléaires et les choses" in 2019, in which he reconstructed the history of the affected places, focusing on the consequences of the disaster and discussing the memory of the catastrophe.

In his latest video installation, A Class Divided by a Red Line, Fujii addresses the issue of psychological trauma and discrimination in the aftermath of the catastrophe. 

His piece is inspired by American educator Jane Elliott's "Blue eyes, Brown eyes" exercise against racism, which she carried out with her class in the 1960s after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

In Hikaru Fujii's installation, a Japanese teacher labels the schoolchildren as inferior or superior, based on where they live — inside or outside the "zone."

Fujii's piece is part of the exhibition "Artists and the Disaster: Imagining in the 10th Year," shown at the art center of the city of Mito, which is 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of the exclusion zone in Fukushima.

Fujii spoke to DW on the sidelines of the Mito art exhibition.

DW: What comes into your mind when thinking of the disaster in 2011?

Hikaru Fujii: I was in the middle of filming when the earthquake happened, so I immediately started filming the situation of the earthquake. The first thing I wanted to do was to document the disaster.

How did you feel at that time — after March 11, 2011?

It is very difficult to create a work of art when such a catastrophe has occurred. However, I started shooting with my camera, not with the intention of creating art, but rather to record.

How was your recent work different form the past one in 2012?

Comparing 10 years ago and now, there are many differences. For example, since 2013 or so, I've been creating work with the purpose of resisting oblivion, because for various reasons, we tend to forget about this disaster. I have been doing this kind of work for a long time. But this time, I took up the issue of discrimination and approached this issue.

Why did you address the issue of discrimination in your video?

The issue of discrimination in relation to Fukushima was well known in Japanese society right after the earthquake and the nuclear accident. This discrimination is a very sensitive topic, so it was difficult for me to address the issue. But now we are living in a coronavirus-affected society, and all of us are in a situation where we discriminate and are discriminated against. I thought that this situation would be an opportunity to create a work of art, and that is how I came to create this work.

A still from Hakira Fujii's video 'A Class Divided'
A still from Fujii's video 'A Class Divided'Image: Hikaru Fujii

Why did you decide to film the video with 10-year-old children?

They have no memory of what happened 10 years ago. In order to pass on the [memory of the] disaster and the nuclear accident to future generations, I thought it would be a great challenge to find a way to communicate the disaster to those who have no memory of it. That is why I decided to ask them to participate in this project.

I would like to add a reason why I wanted to share this memory with children. It is a reality that there will be a catastrophe at some point in the future in Japan or in the world. Preparing for it is a very important issue. This is why we worked with the children on this theme.

Do you find it still very challenging to talk about March 11, the day the disaster occurred?

The situation that it is extremely difficult to make the disaster the subject of art has remained unchanged for the past 10 years. It is something that is hard to talk about, something that cannot be talked about, because there are so many pressures. There are political, economic, and very personal forces at play. For example, it can trigger memories of trauma. I am not sure if expressing myself as an artist in such a situation is what society needs, but I would like to continue to do so as one of my personal challenges.