The seminar's members, representing the full range of academic disciplines that bear upon the study of Japan and including Japan specialists from government, business, and the nonprofit sectors, meet regularly to discuss scholarly papers on all aspects of modern Japan, from history, literature, art, and the performing arts to politics, economics, social issues, and the US-Japan bilateral relationship.

Seminar: #445

Founded: 1960

Nov 9, 2007

November 9, 2007
Charlotte Eubanks (Penn. State)
The Hell of No Secrets: Human Rights Museums and the Shaping of Collective Memory

Anxieties about the relationship between memory and external record have long been with us and are well articulated from the time of Plato’s Phaedrus to
Leibnitz’s musings concerning fallible memory and the paper record, and more recently yet, Pierre Nora’s broodingly nostalgic worries that memory deformation; by history is a hallmark of the modern age. The discussion continues into the contemporary period, with Paul Ricoeur’s meditative examination of memory and history, forgetting and forgiving as interrelated enigmas; and Andreas Huyssen’s studies of memorial politics and cultural amnesia.
Scholarship has been particularly rich in areas relating to Holocaust memory, memorials to the Latin American disappeared and other various legacies of modern human rights violations. As the breadth of this scholarship shows, we continue to struggle, on a global scale, with the question of how our histories should remember the horrors visited by humans upon other humans, and we often expect our museums, as public institutions, to make those histories memorable.
Explicating the continuing success of the US Holocaust Museum in contrast to the Smithsonian’s failure to win public support for its Enola Gay exhibit,
Susan Crane provides an insightful and suggestive reading of the memory-artifact crux. She argues that, “Horror devoid of voyeurism is a powerful
teaching tool which draws on personal experience and creates memory; insistence on either superior historical knowledge or undistorted personal memory, each to the exclusion of the other, is not.”
This statement might be considered a summation of the curatorial directives of a human rights museum and it provides a point of departure for considering the close articulation between viewing practices and the shaping of memory.
This paper will concentrate on depictions of the nuclear aftermath of Hiroshima painted by the husband and wife team of Maruki Iri and Maruki Toshi between 1950 and 1982.In addition, I will consider their retrospective piece “Hell”; painted in 1985, as a lens that provides the opportunity to focus more precisely on the dynamic and moral aspects of their work. A close examination of their murals will reveal the degree to which the Marukis move from depictions based on personal memory, to the creation of collaborative pieces of what might be termed collective memorial art. The main goal of the paper will be to identify the particular compositional practices and viewing strategies cultivated by a successful human rights museum, of which the Maruki Museum is an early—indeed, perhaps the earliest—example.

Discussant: Theodore F. Cook (William Paterson University)