KANTEN 観展: The Limits of History

curated by Eimi Tagore-Erwin

Dokuyama Bontaro, My Anthem, 2019.
  • This information will be updated.

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 a U.S. 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.

Special thanks to LEESAYA and Dokuyama Bontaro.

*The text above was submitted to apexart's 2022-23 NYC Open Call, and rated by over 600 jurors. Any specific artists mentioned are unconfirmed and subject to change.
Eimi Tagore-Erwin is a doctoral student of East Asian Studies at NYU, researching contemporary Japanese art that engages with history, memory, and crisis. She works as a curatorial assistant at Alison Bradley Projects, and is a 2021 Fellow for PoNJA-Genkon and Asia Art Archive in America's PoNJA Wikipedia Fellow Initiative.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.