Visit to the Hajimari Art Center in Fukushima Prefecture‘Raw Art’ Art Brut Exhibition

The 130-year-old Hajimari Art Center building
The Inawashiro, Yama area of Fukushima Prefecture boasts beautiful natural surroundings, including Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro, and the town of Inawashiro is home to a well-known, 130-year-old building called Juhachikengura. The name refers to the building’s roof, which is supported by a single beam approximately 33m meters in length, or 18 (juhachi) ken in the traditional Japanese system for measuring lengths, and its original function as a sake brewery (sake gura). The building has played other roles over the years as well, as a dance hall, a garment factory, and since 2014 as an art museum. The museum hosted an exhibition titled “Feel the Temperature of this Land” from December 26, 2015, to February 29, 2016. This was a group exhibition by artists with a connection to the surrounding Tohoku region of northeastern Japan, and who have continued to produce works that give a feeling of the natural features and history of different locations around Tohoku.
Interior view of the Hajimari Art Center
The Hajimari Art Center primarily displays works of art brut. The term art brut translates as “raw art,” and refers to works of unconfined expression by people who have not had formal art training. This “raw” art is unprocessed and natural, based on the artist’s impulse of what they want to create at that moment, without conforming to a particular school or technique, or trying to be beautiful or impress someone. In Japan, these works are often produced at social welfare facilities, giving many people the impression that art brut means art created by disabled people, but that is not the definition. The term can also refer to art created by prisoners, grandmothers in rural villages, or homeless people. Takayoshi Okabe, director of the Hajimari Art Center, explains, “The point is not that a person can create a good work because they have a disability. We are showing attractive works that are not confined by anything.”
‘Sawayakana Kao’ (Fresh Face), by Michiyo Yaegashi; one of the works in the Feel the Temperature of this Land exhibition
The museum is operated by Asaka Aiikuen, a social welfare corporation based in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. Asaka Aiikuen also operates a support facility for disabled people, and as part of their daily tasks the users of that facility are actively engaged in creative activities. Mr. Okabe has been involved with those activities for many years, and has seen many works that he considered attractive, making him want to share those works with a wider audience. He notes:

“The fact that people tend to view them as something ‘they don’t understand’ is something that art and disabled people have in common. People tend to view art as something that is refined and out of reach, and have prejudices concerning disabled people, so they tend to think that neither has anything to do with them personally. I feel that it is a waste for both art and disabled people to be cut off from ordinary people’s daily lives. I want them both to blend in naturally with the lives of many people. I hope the Hajimari Art Center will help to achieve this.”

Mr. Okabe continues:

“One of the users of the social welfare facility was always taking people’s eyeglasses. He snatched off the glasses of everyone he met. I used to wear glasses but they were always getting dirty, so for a while I switched to contacts. As one of the facility’s staff, I always stopped him when he tried to take someone’s glasses. I had no idea why he did this.”

“Then one time I saw him wearing glasses and looking intently at himself in a mirror, and I realized that the reason he took people’s glasses was that he wanted to see what he looked like wearing glasses. He couldn’t express his intention in words so he tried to snatch away people’s glasses. When people tried to stop him he panicked. People around him didn’t understand what was happening and were afraid of him. I realized that this is the kind of chain of events that leads to prejudice.”

“Actions are carried out for a reason. Instead of avoiding people with various traits because we think they are strange, we would have a more tolerant society if more people could imagine the reason for those actions. I believe a society in which people who are socially vulnerable can live with ease is a world in which anyone can find it easy to live.”

“Every person has thoughts and emotions that they cannot express in words. Even people who have no trouble speaking or writing cannot express in words everything that is in their mind. At the Hajimari Art Center, people are exposed to works that represent impulses that cannot be expressed as words, so they are expressed as impulses. I hope to provide more opportunities for people to think about the artists and what lies behind their works.”

The Hajimari Art Center is supported by The Nippon Foundation’s New Day Charity Fund. The New Day Charity Fund was established with a 340 million yen donation to The Nippon Foundation from the proceeds of the New Day – Artists for Japan charity art auction. The auction was held by the art production company Kaikai Kiki in November 2011 to raise funds to support reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Works were donated by famous artists from around the world who wanted to help support the reconstruction of the region affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The New Day Charity Fund aims to use cultural engagement to create a new Tohoku, and even a new Japan. The next scheduled exhibition is “Neither Despair nor Hope,” from April 2.

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Communications Department The Nippon Foundation