Project area:Ishinomaki City (Miyagi Prefecture)
Realizing the Appeal of the Town, its people, and Art after the Earthquake
I want to make this town an "Arts Town"
"Art doesn't make any difference" - Regretting my words one month on
The city of Ishinomaki, and the neighboring Onagawacho, both strongly representing Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, are said to be among the worst hit areas by the disaster in Miyagi Prefecture.The Tachimachi shopping arcade, also known as the "Ishinomaki Manga road", which connects Ishinomaki station and Ishinomori Manga Museum, also sustained considerable damage in the tsunami,being transformed in an instant. Four months after the earthquake, there are few shops which have managed to reopen, but as people wearing masks come and go through the arcade, in one corner your eyes can not fail to be caught by a colorful shutter.This is the base of the "Ishinomaki Wonder Alley Project", a young artist initiative, lead by "The Future" artist Ichiro Endo, which aims to bring back the vitality of the town. At the time of the interview, a row of door plates made by students of Ishinomaki High School and Isinomaki Kobunkan High School for the people living in temporary housing were on display. The person behind this initiative is Chie Kajiwara, the art teacher of Ishinomaki High School, who was born and raised in Onagawacho.Chie smiles brighter than ever as she is interviewed, but for a time after the earthquake, she regretted having devoted her time to the engagement of "art", and while thinking to herself "I want to do something", was unable to take action.
"Directly after the earthquake, people working with electricity, water, food, shelter, and clothing soon took action and found ways of being useful. I'm an art teacher.I managed somehow to keep working, but I thought to myself "art doesn't have any use".
One month later, the urge to do something became stronger each day.And it was after a conversation while visiting a volunteer centre that Chie's thoughts really changed.
"When I asked "is there something I can do to help?", I was told "you can teach art, so use those skills to make yourself useful". From that point, I thought intensely about what I could do. At the time when the construction of temporary housing was about to start, I went to take a look and noticed that every house was gray. When I imagined people living there, I started to think about doing something that might help to make the place a little brighter."
Her strong point being wood carving, Chie started to create door plates out of scrap wood for the people moving into the temporary housing.Soon after, the students who saw what she was doing also told her they wanted to join in, and it became an activity for the students in art class. While there was initially no intention to display the plates, an encounter with the "Ishinomaki Wonder Alley Project" was the catalyst for an exhibition at their center."
Appreciating again the "power " of art. Making the town I was born an art town
Currently,there are a number of artists from outside the prefecture who have started to pay visits to the area, leading to exchanges with the people of the shopping arcade. However, the shutter art and door plates were not accepted smoothly from the beginning as one might imagine.In relation to this process, Chie talks about the "privilege" which art has.
"People are always reluctant at first to accept beautiful,enjoyable, or cheerful things. It's like saying, "I'm content just to look". But after watching for a long time, people start to want join in(laughter). It's a curious thing, but they start to feel "this looks interesting". This is because when they return to reality, there is nothing enjoyable for them to do, only gloom. By joining in and completing a door plate for example, they start to feel enjoyment. Testament to this is in the fact that one person made 14 plates in only the first week. Seeing old ladies become cheerful again through these activities, holding chisels and pencils for the first time in decades, I keenly felt how powerful art can be."
While having briefly lost hope in art, it is this same Chie who came to re-discover art's strength. And now she has a special plan she is keeping to herself.
"Before the earthquake, both people who had lived here for a long time,and young people, including myself, didn't have any interest in this town or the shopping arcade. And we felt no connections between each other. But from now on, I want people to become closer to each other and have more attachment to the town. As a result of the earthquake, I too am discovering that this place is enjoyable, and I have come to realize that lots of interesting people are living here. The people who came to see the door plate exhibition ask "what are you going to do next?" So I'm thinking about an even more interesting project which can maintain and also spread the connections made so far. This is a bit of a secret, but I want to make a gallery in the place I'm living, Onagawa. At the beginning, it may not be accepted, but if I can seize this opportunity, I'm thinking to turn Onagawa into a "art town" (laughter)"
Door plates carved using enlarged images of names. On the back of each plate, a message from the person who made it is written.
(The interview was conducted on June 30, 2011 in Ishinomaki, Miyagi)