The Moon and the Lustre

The day before the full moon lunar eclipse in September 2015, Melissa Murakami and I visited the Maritime Museum in Fremantle to see the Lustre exhibition. Melissa’s great great grandfather Yasukichi Murakami lived in Broome during the hey-day of the Australian pearl shell industry, and had made a quiet, yet significant contributions to the industry. Quiet, because until this exhibition, the stories of Australian pearling had not been told through the vision of curator Sarah Yu and her team Bart Pigram and Maya Shioji at Nyamba Buru Yawuru with the WA Museum team who had included individual narratives of lessor known black and yellow fellas who were part of the Australian pearling community.

Melissa Murakami and projected self portrait of Yasukichi Murakami at the Lustre: Pearling & Australia exhibition. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Melissa Murakami and projected self-portrait of Yasukichi Murakami at the Lustre: Pearling & Australia exhibition. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Murakami and his business partner Captain A.C. Gregory started Australia’s first cultured pearl farm, although the authorities had closed it down because of the local fear of ruining the natural pearl market, which in effect had set Australia’s cultured pearl industry back by 30 years. Murakami had invented a safer diving suit, which was the forerunner for the modern-day scuba gear, and although he had patented his design, its renewal fell due whilst he was interned as an enemy alien during WWII, allowing a French inventor to patent one of a very similar design. Significant contributions dwarfed by the course of history, and the way what stories are told by whom.

I had created short audio stories for this exhibition by using oral history interviews of people who were part of the cultured pearling industry for this exhibition. They included not only pearling masters and Japanese pearl divers, but lesser known stories of Indigenous pearl shell carvers, deck hands, boat builders, and shell graders, among many others.

Although my involvement had been small compared to all the work that had gone into preparing the exhibition, being in constant communication with Sarah Yu, who had put me up in her home whilst I was researching Yasukichi Murakami’s story for Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, gave me the opportunity to contribute some of Murakami’s story and photographs found in Tanami and Darwin for the exhibition

From the exhibition Lustre: Pearling & Australia. The photograph displayed of the boy on the left centre was taken by Yasukichi Murakami of his son Francis Yasunosuke Murakami at the Japanese Cemetery in Cossak. The x marking on the photo indicated the grave of Chiyo Araki, mother of Theresa Shigeno Murakami. The video display on the right was part of project In Repose by Wakako Asano, Satsuki Odamura, Vic McEwan and Mayu Kanamori. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

From the exhibition Lustre: Pearling & Australia. The photograph displayed of the boy on the left centre was taken by Yasukichi Murakami of his son Francis Yasunosuke Murakami at the Japanese Cemetery in Cossack. The x marking on the photo indicated the grave of Chiyo Araki, mother of Theresa Shigeno Murakami. The video display on the right was part of project In Repose by Wakako Asano, Satsuki Odamura, Vic McEwan and Mayu Kanamori.
Photo by Mayu Kanamori

I darted around the exhibition looking for images and stories pertaining to Murakami, making sure we did not miss any of them, pointing them out to Melissa with excitement, as if they were my own photographs on display. Melissa’s partner found the copy of a certificate exempting Murakami from a dictation test, issued by the Commonwealth of Australia as part of the Immigration Act 1901-1920. Displayed in one of the glass cabinets, the second page of the certificate was of his left palm, stamped by the customs and excise office in 1925.

There is something powerful about a hand print of someone who had once lived. Its proof of having-once-lived-ness enters our awareness vividly in rawness; much more so than a photograph of the deceased, perhaps because of our digital age and the proliferation of photographs.

Melissa studied the lines on her ancestor’s palm, then her own in comparison. It is often said in palmistry that the left hand shows traits a person was born with, and the right hand, the kind of a person they had become; and perhaps because of this, she found the shape of his palm and the lines similar to her own. She later told me of feeling a strong connection with this particular exhibit, as if “the only separation between was an ink pad, and not time.”

Melissa Murakami comparing her left palm to that of her ancestor Yasukichi Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Melissa Murakami comparing her left palm to that of her ancestor Yasukichi Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Before we left the museum, we took photos of each other, separately and together in groups at the entrance of the exhibition. Seen from the entrance was a screen hoisted from the ceiling, its shape round, probably because it emulated the shape of a pearl. Black and white images of people who worked in the Australian pearling industry were projected on to the screen, one by one. When it was Melissa’s turn to be photographed on her own, one of Murakami’s self portraits taken at Captain Gregory’s home appeared on the screen.

That afternoon on my way back to Perth, I saw a daytime super moon, full, just above the horizon in the clear blue sky, perfectly round like a cultured pearl. Was it my own little ego that made me see Yasukichi Murakami sitting in Gregory’s cane chair, on the moon, acknowledging my small contribution for his descendants and wider world to recognise his? Perhaps it was time to return to humility, and remember that as people, we all have a part to play, a small but significant purpose to fulfil as part of the whole.

Lustre: Australian Pearling will be on at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle from 20 June to 25 Oct 2015 travelling to other locations.

More info:

Lustre by Sarah Yu, Bart Pigram and Maya Shioji on the Griffith Review

Lustre on-line text panels by WA Museum

Shinju Matsuri Festival – Broome

5 & 6 Septemeber 2014 7:30pm Broome Civic Centre

Old Broome families remember Yasukichi Murakami. Many have photographs of their family members taken by him in their homes. Others have grown up with Yasukichi’s children, and some to the Murakami family through marriage. People in Broome respect their history, and read the many books written about their town, many of which mention Yasukichi. There is a Murakami Road on the way to their new jetty with a sign erected by the Shire with information about him and his contribution to the town.

The audience in Broome were well-informed with their history, and soulfully connected to the story of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens. They laughed and cried a lot louder, they talked, as they saw projected, photographs of people they remembered. For Broome’s Nikkei community and their friends of mixed heritage who lived and worked together before Broome’s rapid population growth, this performance touched upon their specific history, their contribution to pearling, and their hardships, including the almost forgotten Japanese internment during WW2.

There were 212 people interned from Broome. In the audience were former internee and Broome Counsillor Philip Matsumoto and Ben Shiosaki, who had returned from Mullewa to Broome for the first time since he was 6 years old when he and his family arrested as enemy aliens.

Showing Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens in Broome was important. As Annette Shun Wah from Performance 4a, the producer of this work aptly billed it, we were “bringing Murakami home to Broome.” With Shinju Matsuri Festival board member Chris Maher working diligently in the background, the Broome Shire President Graeme Campbell hosted a civic reception before the show opened for the Murakami family, welcoming them back to their town.

Shire President Graeme Campbell and Pearl Hamaguchi

Shire President Graeme Campbell and Pearl Hamaguchi

Murakami family members arrived in Broome for this occasion from Perth, Karratha, Fitzroy Crossing and Darwin. Nikkei community Elder Pearl Hamaguchi gave a moving speech honouring the family, and remembering those community members interned during the war, including her own father Jimmy Chi. She presented the Shire with a framed copy of Yasukichi Murakami’s invention – his improved diving suit design which became the basis for the modern-day scuba equipment.

After the Broome performance of Yasukichi Murakami - Through a Distant Lens. L to R - Fran Murakami,

After the Broome performance of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens. L to R – Fran Murakami, Colin Murakami, Kevin Murakami, Julie Murakami, Cr Philip Matsumoto, Ben Shiosaki, Joanne Shiosaki, Rodney Murakami and Mayu Kanamori.

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– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

 

Darwin Festival

19  August 2014 8:15pm & 20 August 2014 6pm & 8:15pm Brown’s Mart Theatre

Sitting at the very back of the packed-out Brown’s Mart Theatre on the world premier of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, I thought I could hear every murmur, each gasp, laughter and finally, sniffle by the group of dozen Murakami family members who sat in the front row.

In making this work, listening became the most important thing to do. To listen carefully to the voice of Yasukichi Murakami’s spirit, the voices of the creative collaborators, and to my own inner voice of truth. This active listening required more effort than to speak out loud. For many years I had thought it a vital process of becoming an artist to express, and out loudly, but through this project,  I have learned expressive less, more receptive, let go, and allow the creative to emerge as it naturally flowed outwards.

Although those Murakami family members who had received a copy of the script gave their blessing, I was still very worried whether the family members would like how their ancestor was portrayed on stage. To my relief, when we met at the theatre forecourt after the show, it was obvious that they were pleased with the results.

Phew.

Cast and crew wht Murakami family members after the premier of Yasukichi Murakami Through a Distant Lens photo by Greg Aitkin

Cast and crew with Murakami family members after the premier of Yasukichi Murakami Through a Distant Lens photo by Greg Aitkin. Front row L to R – Veronica McLennan, Arisa Yura, Mayu Kanamori, Julie Murakami, Jacqueline Murakami, Annette Shun Wah, David Murakami, Terumi Narushima. Back row L to R -Malcolm Blaylock, Calvin Murakami, Maius Lai, Kevin Murakami, Peter Murakami, Yvonne Wood, Benjamin Brockman.

It was important to premier this work as part of Darwin Festival, Darwin’s most prestigious and recognised art festival, because this is where Yasukichi Murakami and his family were arrested as an enemy alien and it is where most of his descendants live today. Because of  this, Darwin is where the honour of his name and work need to be remembered, acknowledged and celebrated the most.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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DNA and RNA: what and how of a role of artist and of being human

When I saw Kevin Murakami in Broome, my heart felt like it had stopped for a moment. The shock of seeing him took me to a place I had not prepared for. There was Yasukichi Murakami walking out of his car, I thought, approaching me to say hello.

Kevin Murakami, Broome, 2013  Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Kevin Murakami, Broome, 2013 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

This man of course wasn’t Yasukichi Murakami nor his ghost, but his great grandson, who travelled from Fitzroy Crossing to see me during my stay in Broome. He heard me give an interview with ABC Kimberley about my search for Yasukichi Murakami’s life and work, and contacted me.

I was working with my friend Sarah Yu in Broome on another project: Jetty-to-Jetty, a heritage walking trail of Broome’s foreshore commissioned by Nymaba Buru Yawuru. My specific task was to interview members of old families of Broome in connection to places and their relationships with one another; then create audio files of stories with multiple voices, which tourists could listen to via a phone app whilst walking from the Streeter’s Jetty where hte pearl luggers used to operate from and the site of  Broome’s old Jetty, where the Town Beach is today. They are families and places Yasukichi Murakami would have had intimate knowledge of. After all, he lived in Broome for 35 years of his life. Once again, my work connects past with present and present with future through people, stories, relationships, place and space.

Kevin had driven 400 kms to just to see me. More precisely, he had come to connect with his great grandfather Yasukichi Murakami so that he can then pass on this connection to his two daughters in Perth. He came so I can give him his ancestral family photographs that I have been collecting and digitizing whilst traveling between Sydney, Perth, Darwin, Broome, Tokyo, Yokohama and Tanami in Japan for my Murakami project.

To make my art, I travel many kilometers to ask others to assist me, to receive from them information I need to carry out my work. This time, however, it was Kevin who travelled to receive information that he needed, and he in turn will pass this information on to his children.

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Yasukichi Murakami, self portrait, by Yasukichi Murakami, 1905, Broome. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives.

I felt as if this exchange touched upon something very mysterious and significant. It was as if I was given  some sort of a hint about how our creative practice, no matter how small it may be in the great scheme of things, is an important part of the whole. That this project is not only about Yasukichi Murakami nor just about my research nor about my art. That in so far as we are alive, there are things we are meant to do for something much bigger than us.

Kevin’s facial and physical features, so similar to what I have seen of Yasukichi Murakami through his self portraits reinforces these insights of being part of a continuum, in this particular case, the Murakami DNA. So then I begin not only to wonder about the role of DNA, but also the role of RNA in the scheme of things.

I remember studying biology in school. The DNA is said to be a molecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and  the RNA performs multiple roles in the coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. I am not a scientist, but I think simply put DNA tells a cell what to do and  RNA carries this information for it to happen… or something similar.

Hm….

So then what and how is my role as an artist? As a human being?

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Listen to the ABC Kimberley interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2013/05/20/3762857.htm?site=kimberley

Yasukichi Murakami’s Diving Suit Part 1

“He was not a man who was taken in by the modern cameras of that time like the Leica or 35mm. He considered that to be toys,” is how Joe Kisaburo Clement Murakami remembers his father’s ways with the camera. I think of the changes in cameras these days with smart phones and apps, and wonder if my carrying around my digital SLR is similar to Yasukichi Murakami’s insistence on being a “ big camera man. Big format”.

I met Joe in his apartment in Tsunashima, a suburb near Yokohama. Joe was born in Australia, and one of the few pre war Japanese allowed to stay in Australia after he was released from internment with his family during WW2 as an enemy alien. He went to Japan in the 1960’s to learn Japanese, and later found work as a translator for a Japanese company and for books such as Letters from the End of the World: A Firsthand Account of the Bombing of Hiroshima.

Joe Murakami as a child in Broome. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Joe Murakami today. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Joe Murakami as a child in Broome. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Joe Murakami today. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Joe Murakami was born in 1927, around the time when Yasukichi was putting his final improvements to his diving suit design, which he had first patented in 1926. Joe was keen to tell me about his father’s invention.

“I think I used to be a pretty inquisitive boy so I used to ask him all sorts of questions. Even when I was six or seven. And he would give me always some sort of answer. Later I found interest in his diving dress. He told me that the crux of his invention was the regulator that regulated the breathe according to the depth of the diver without the diver having to have to manipulate any valves. That I remember.”

In Broome where Murakami had lived since 1900, many men, including his brother-in-law Masutaro Asari, who travelled with Murakami to Australia in 1897, have died diving for pearls in old-fashioned diving suits. For many years Yasukichi Murakami continued experiments to create a safer diving suit.

Murakami’s improved diving suit design patented the year Joe was born, and he was invited by Heinke, manufacturers of the traditional diving dress to visit London to develop a prototype of his design, but for some reason, did not go. Some say it was because he wanted to stay with his family. Some say it was because his friend and business partner Captain A.C. Gregory did not want Murakami to leave his side.

Murakami’s patent fell due for renewal whist he was interned during the war and he was not able to renew it. In 1943, a French engineer Émile Gagnan patented scuba apparatus with identical mechanisms to that of Murakami’s.

I remember Murakami’s attempt at Australia’s first cultured pearl farm with Captain Gregory and how the authorities had closed it down. Joe said that Johnny Chi Snr in Broome told him that he remembers seeing a successful cultured pearl from Murakami’s failed pearl farm. That makes two inventions in Australia by Yasukichi Murakami, unattributed to his genius due to “course” of history. Perhaps this blog and project can contribute to the flow of history in a fairer way – here and now.

Continued.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Entrance Point

Sitting on a rock at Entrance Point with my (honorary) sister seem like we always had and always would be sitting together at this place.

Lucy tells me about her three jobs in Indigenous education. I tell Lucy about my projects, which brought me back to Broome again. About my search for Murakami and about passing on my skills and stories of Broome’s Elders to the younger people in Broome You Are Here. They are separate projects, but are related in my mind.

Entrance Point is where Murakami is said to have tried unsuccessfully to start a cultured pearl business as early as 1922 with his business partner Ansell Gregory. It is said that their scheme was stopped by the authorities in response to fears that it would drive the prices of natural pearls down.

There is a road nearby named after him. Murakami Road is a dead-end road where Broome’s current cultured pearl shell hatchery is serviced.

Lucy knows that I am back in Broome because of what happened between us over a decade ago with The Heart of the Journey.

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– Posted by Mayu Kanamori