NYC 22 Submission View


KANTEN 観展: The Limits of History

Submitted by: Eimi Tagore-Erwin

KANTEN 観展 is a play on the Japanese words kanten (観点) or perspective, and tenrankai (展覧会), art exhibition—literally coming together to mean an exhibition of perspectives. KANTEN is a multimedia group exhibition that examines the histories of Japan’s expansionism during the Asia Pacific war from a multitude of perspectives, exposing the many ways that history is visualized. As ethno-nationalism and neoliberal patriotism are on the rise in Japan—and all over the globe—it is meaningful to center the ways in which art has long had the provocative capacity to construct and dismantle national histories. The artists included in this exhibition engage in the practice of navigating, second-guessing, and re-writing history, creating artworks that function as profound acts of resistance. By bringing their work into conversation with historical materials from the war, KANTEN aims to reveal the limits of memory, truth, and testimony. It marks the first exhibition on this subject in the U.S., adding to the growing resistance against the reluctancy in facing historical truths—especially those that paint a disturbing picture.

Four of the artists included in KANTEN take a documentary approach, using various forms of realism to demonstrate how the legacies of colonization continue into the present. The first artist's photographs present viewers with somber landscapes taken throughout East Asia, each containing remnants of Shinto structures and symbols that tracing the violent fluidity of national borders and the ideology of an empire. The second artist's videoworks gather the oral histories of elderly Korean and Taiwanese citizens that grew up during the imperial period, shedding light on the pervasiveness of Japanese assimilation policies that created doubled identities amongst the oppressed. The third artist duo uses documentary art film to harness the power of metaphor and conversation, drawing viewers into the complexity of the ongoing imperial triangulation between Japan and the U.S. within the militarized space of Okinawa. The fourth artist's sculptural installations incorporate historical photographs of the Japanese diaspora interned across North America during the war, exposing yet another aspect of the war’s transnational and transgenerational traumas—scars that seem disparate at first glance, but are in fact deeply connected.

Two printmakers critically examine historical accountability in their work. The first printmaker's etchings examine the responsibility of Japanese citizens, with particular attention paid to the often-overlooked culpability of Japanese women who were at the forefront of the war effort. The second printmaker's black and white woodcuts satirize the politics surrounding history in Japan today, employing meticulous archival research to create detailed engravings that re-envision national narratives and myths.

The final component of this exhibition is the inclusion of a collection of original sensō hagaki, imperial war postcards, from the East Asia Image Collection at Lafayette College. These postcards were widely published and circulated not only in Japan, but also in its wartime territories of China, Manchukuo, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia during the Asia Pacific War, playing a vital role in the intra-imperial perpetuation of Japan’s imperial fascism on a popular, grassroots level.