By Bob Lee
In 2006, the Asian American Arts Centre mounted a one person exhibition for Yoshiki Araki (1950-2000), an artist in NYC who produced a significant body of art works. His works reflected upon the experience of war as key to his generation, including his family's connection to Hiroshima, and his own mother’s experience of searching for her father in the Hiroshima ruins. It was not till many years later that Araki found his voice in NYC and started to fill his large basement in Brooklyn with preparations for a series of photo collages surrounded by paraffin wax, an ambitious project, only some of which were actually completed. At the time of the exhibition I wrote a press release and an essay for the invitation card which can be seen online at: here and here.
Araki’s family, along with his widow and friends, came all the way from Japan to attend the opening. It was then that I heard of his connection to the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, how he had come to collect books and magazines, cutting out portions of the photo images he found there. Creating finely cut miniature collages from Nobuyoshi’s images and setting them in boxes surrounded by paraffin as one might set a jewel in its setting. Sexual expose became a way for Araki to reveal what Hiroshima has yet to divulge. Brendan Kennelly in his Little Book of Judas wrote, "if you want to serve your age, betray it – expose its lies, humiliate its conceits, debunk its arrogance. Condemn them to face harsher truths."
In Japan men and women may have a different relationship to their sexuality. Certainly Nobuyoshi, or Araki as he is known in Japan, displays in his art a vision that for Westerners crosses over into pornography. Images of bondage may not readily reveal their subtext, blockages like reliquaries locked in human tissues where traumas are stored. Much of this kind of art work is banned and not accessible in the US. Yoshiki Araki’s work was apparently built on Nobuyoshi’s work, making it perhaps difficult for Americans to understand. With the freedom Yoshiki had in collage juxtapositions, he could be more direct, treating taboos as precious. There he could admit more as to the scale and range of human acceptable behavior, and search for a greater human compassion to arise.
Its been nearly eight years since his exhibition. I’ve come to wonder if rationalism is to die at the hands of mass brutality, and if what is grotesque about the human body will come to find a different meaning.
His mother when much older did learn about what happened to her grandfather, participating in a Japanese news story when a media station brought her and a witness together who saw her grandfather the day after Hiroshima, bloody, suffering and dying.