Exhibition inspired by Japanese disaster comes to Northwestern


Photo courtesy of Jill Norton

Painter Jave Yoshimoto’s work was inspired by the 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, which killed tens of thousands of people. The exhibition, called “Melting World,” is on display at the Dittmar Memorial Gallery through Aug. 9.

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, killing tens of thousands of people, inspired artist Jave Yoshimoto to paint a tribute to the lives lost in the disaster.

The Melting World, Yoshimoto’s exhibition on the natural disaster, is currently on display at Dittmar Memorial Gallery in Norris University Center and will reside there through Aug. 9.

Yoshimoto said his initial work as an artist focused on cultural identity. He was born in Japan to Chinese parents, and he moved to the U.S. at age 9, the painter said.

“I had this feeling of being displaced a lot,” he said. “I felt like a lost soul of sorts.”

In 2006, Yoshimoto returned to Japan for the first time in more than 20 years, he said. Yoshimoto said he wanted to be more connected with Japanese culture, and he began incorporating into his work his experience with graphic design, as well as artistic elements such as Japanese woodblock painting and Chinese brush painting.

“When the March 11 disaster happened in Japan, I wanted to do something with my skill set,” Yoshimoto said. “I wanted to use my talents to help the people in Japan.”

Yoshimoto said he spent nearly a year painting a 30-foot scroll, now part of The Melting World exhibition, to capture the disaster in Japan. The work pays tribute to the people who lost their lives, families or homes in the disaster, he said.

“I wanted to use the painting as a reminder that today, there are still people who are homeless and need our help,” Yoshimoto said.

After the 2011 tragedy, Yoshimoto’s work shifted from a focus on cultural identity to an emphasis on disasters, he said. The tsunami-inspired painting was the first in his nine-piece Disaster series, Yoshimoto added. The entire Disaster series is on display at Dittmar along with works from Yoshimoto’s earlier Godzilla invading series.

“(The Disaster series) covers different topics, but it still captures this aspect of disaster and, in a sense, is trying to capture the humanity of everything,” Yoshimoto said.

Debra Ann Blade, Norris’ assistant director of building services, marketing and promotions, said The Melting World exhibition is graphic and colorful, reminding her of anime.

“Most people look at it and they think anime,” Blade said. “They think that his work is kind of based in the Japanese animation … because you’ve got these sort of swirly tones and designs.”

Blade said the decision to host The Melting World exhibition during the summer is appropriate due to Yoshimoto’s attention to color in the work.

“I think that the style of art is very interesting, and I wish it was here during the academic year, because I see a lot more programming possibilities with it,” Blade said.

The Melting World exhibition was chosen to be displayed at Dittmar by a selection committee, Blade added.

“We invite different people who have been affiliated with the gallery throughout the University — Norris professional staff, the head of Norris, people who have supported the gallery throughout the years from different departments,” said Communication senior Darien Wendell, a Dittmar curator who was part of the selection committee.

The committee accepts more than 300 submissions and narrows them down to anywhere between 25 and 30 semifinalists, Wendell said. Each committee member then votes on his or her top three exhibitions, and the gallery staff goes through the votes to choose between seven and 10 works for display at Dittmar, she said.

Wendell said Yoshimoto’s work stood out to the committee during the final round of selections.

“The themes behind it pointing to environmental disasters and how the responses thereafter carried out, we thought that it was an important social cause to have represented at our gallery,” Wendell said.

Yoshimoto said his works have been shown at other universities but this is the first time his art is being presented at NU.

“It’s a big honor for me to be showing at Northwestern because I used to go to school in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then my wife lived in Evanston, so it’s kind of like a homecoming for me,” Yoshimoto said.

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