When the darkness is set free: woodcut and Ueno Makoto’s palm-sized series The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki
WAKABAYASHI Chiyo (Translated by Justin JESTY)
It isn’t a particularly grandiose set of pieces. To the contrary each work is so small it would nestle comfortably in the palm of the hand. And from the viewer’s hand, the world of the woodcut, built out of the contrast between bright white and jet black darkness, seems to whisper.
In 1961, the print artist Ueno Makoto spent the months of July and August in the areas of Nagasaki that had been hit by the atomic bomb, thus fulfilling one of his long held aspirations. Starting that October and continuing into the next year, he worked on a series of small prints, each corresponding to one day of his trip, composed as if it were a diary. These eventually completed a cycle of sixty-one woodcuts first exhibited at Tokyo’s Yōseidō Art Gallery in November 1962 under the title ‘The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki’.
These small, hand-sized works might be the single most compact crystallization of Ueno’s work as a print artist: nearly all of the themes that appear over his lifetime of work can be found in this set of small images.
Chiyo Wakabayashi is associate professor in Okinawa University. Her research focuses on contemporary history of Okinawa, East Asian and international history. She is also an editorial member of Keshikaji, a journal based in Okinawa.
Justin Jesty has a PhD from the University of Chicago and researches modern Japanese culture.