Sunday, 16 October 2011

Hiroshima Through the Art of Yoko Ono

We recently had a visit from a good friend from Australia who, as a history teacher, was keen to visit Hiroshima during his stay. As I had been there once before, I felt confident that I could navigate our way via the Shinkhansen and provide a quick tour of the significant historic landmarks. It remains a fascinating city that has literally risen from the ashes of World War II to symbolise world peace and promote the anti nuclear cause. Not surprisingly it continues to attract tourists from all over the world, who still find the devastation of the A-bomb difficult to comprehend and seek to understand more by their visit. Like so many others we made our way straight to the Peace Park Memorial, but as we walked, we spotted an advertising banner promoting an exhibition of the works of Yoko Ono that was being held at the Contemporary Art Museum. Apparently she had recently been awarded ‘The Hiroshima Art Prize’, resulting in a solo exhibition that aimed to increase awareness of her works as well as promoting world peace and nuclear disarmourment. Being the wife and widow of legendary musician John Lennon, Yoko Ono has spent the majority of her life in the spotlight, although her significant contemporary art background has often been overshadowed by the fame of The Beatles and what is perceived to be her controversial influence upon their eventual break up. While she was working at the cutting edge of conceptual art well before developing a relationship with John Lennon, it seems that their meeting was as much a blessing and a curse for her career as a practicing artist. While she could now claim the attention of the world’s media, who were curious about her Avant Garde background, her credentials as a serious artist appeared to lose impettus as a result of her foray into the music world. This wasn’t however entirely the case in her country of birth, who over the years have been more prepared to acknowledge her place as a serious contributor to the development of modern art in Japan. Certainly the Hiroshima Art Prize is one such acknowledgement of both her cultural connections and artistic contribution to promoting world peace, a theme from which she has drawn artistic inspiration since the early 1960’s. The exhibition had certainly sparked our curiosity and we were both keen to view it before leaving Hiroshima. My friend has been a life long John Lennon fan and has followed his career closely, particularly as it became increasingly interwoven with that of the much maligned and enigmatic Yoko. While he continues to be somewhat fascinated by her personal complexities, often questioning her influence on the John Lennon brand, we have often been drawn into discussions regarding her role as an artist. So the exhibition would allow us to see her works first hand and review how they stand up today as serious conceptual art pieces. As with all installation works, upon viewing Yoko’s works they often invite more questions than answers. However, there is no denying that ‘Peace’ continues to remain her underlining theme both figuratively and symbolically. In a large blackened room, enormous projection screens flank bubble-like Perspex figures, while occasional bursts of white light denote the moment of nuclear detonation. In the adjoining room, row upon row of blanket draped bodies lie in a sea of paper origami peace cranes. People walk through silently, in respect for both the artwork and for the theme it depicts. The impact of the imagery is heightened by the scale of these pieces, which creates an environment that engulfs the viewer, who in turn engage as part of the piece. Even at 78 years of age, Yoko Ono’s works remain bold and edgy, as they have always done. Despite her complex personal history, she still essentially remains an artist and while some of her underlying message remained at times predictable, we both felt as if we had experienced something quite memorable, that in the end had effectively evoked the ‘Spirit of Hiroshima’ for which this significant art prize was awarded.


  1. you always write and describe things so beautifully.

  2. Yoko Ono is obviously a truly important artist. Her song "Walking on Thin Ice" is one of the top 100 records ever made, although its brilliance has a lot to do with John Lennon's production, the final thing he was working on before he was murdered. Though I couldn't be there to see her exhibition, you have brought her show alive for me. Peace and Love, as they used to say, or was it Piece and and Love?

  3. Shakespeare, you are a font of knowledge...peace and love to you, but no more fan mail (apologies to Ringo)