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.

IMG_9793

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

Advertisements

Diasporic condition

Every two hours a slow local train stops at Tanami station, a small seaside village near the very southern tip of Honshu Island. This is where photographer Yasukichi Murakami was born, and left at the age of 17 in 1897 to sail to Australia.

The old Tanami port where Yasukichi would have farewelled his family is only a few hundred meters away from where the Murakami family home once stood. Yasukichi would have grown up looking out to sea everyday watching the men of Tanami leave, many who sailed overseas to find work in places like Hawaii and Australia on indentured contracts.

Old Tanami port. The stone wall of the Murakami family home can be seen on the far left. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Old Tanami port. The stone wall of the Murakami family home can be seen on the far left. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Reiko “Ruruka” Minami, Yasukichi Murakami’s grand-daughter met me at Tanami station. Ruruka is about my age, and like me, an artist, a performance maker. She performs in sign language whilst my performances use photographs to communicate.

Ruruka Minami at Tanami station. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami at Tanami station. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka took me to her family home to meet her mother, Yasuko Pearl Minami (nee Murakami). Travelling to meet a 89-year-old woman whilst carrying on my iPad a photograph of young Yasukichi induces my mind to play tricks, creating an illusion as if I am meeting Yasukichi’s mother, but this woman is his daughter.

Yasukichi Murakami's photo travelled with me to his hometown in Tanami, Wakayama, Japan. The eucalyptus bark and nuts were found at Yasukichi Murakami's gravesite in Cowra, NSW. Photo by Mayu Kanamaori

Yasukichi Murakami’s photo travelled with me to his hometown in Tanami, Wakayama, Japan. The eucalyptus bark and nuts were found at Yasukichi Murakami’s gravesite in Cowra, NSW. Self portrait photo of Yasukichi Murakami by Yasukichi Murakami, Courtesy of Murakami Family Archives. Photo by Mayu Kanamaori

Yasuko Pearl who was born in Broome, Western Australia and married a man from Tanami whilst they were both interned in Tatura, Victoria during WWII. She is the third born between Yasukichi and his wife Theresa Shigeno.

In her home, Yasuko Pearl showed me many original photographs taken by her father Yasukichi Murakami. In Australia, these photographs were lost when Yasukichi and his family were arrested in Darwin in 1941 for being an enemy alien. But Yasukichi throughout his life had sent his photographs to his mother in Japan, allowing us to see what life was like for Yasukichi during his lifetime.

Ruruka Minami and Pearl Yasuko Minami looking at old photographs. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami and Pearl Yasuko Minami looking at old photographs. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Whilst looking through these old photographs we came across a family photograph taken in Tanami. It is the only photo I have seen of Yasukichi and his mother Yasu in Japan along with Theresa and 5 five of his 9 children. I am told that this photo was taken in Tanami when Yasukichi returned to his place of birth. I know from his immigration records that this was 1925.

Yasukichi Murakami and family in Tanami, Wakayama Prefecture. 1925.Left to right: Yasu Murakami, Frances Yasunosuke Murakami, Theresa Shigeno Murakami, Bernadette Yoshiko Murakami (baby), Pearl Yasuko Murakami, Kathleen Masuko Murakami (standing), Richard Jukichi Murakami and Yasuichi Murakami. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives

Yasukichi Murakami and family in Tanami, Wakayama Prefecture. 1925.
Left to right: Yasu Murakami, Frances Yasunosuke Murakami, Theresa Shigeno Murakami, Bernadette Yoshiko Murakami (baby), Pearl Yasuko Murakami, Kathleen Masuko Murakami (standing), Richard Jukichi Murakami and Yasuichi Murakami. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy, Murakami Family Archives

Yasukichi’s father Jubei Murakami was a successful man. Unlike other men from Tanami, Yasukichi did not need to leave home to find work. I imagine Yasukichi left home full of youthful energy, looking forward to his adventures ahead. I too remember when I first left Tokyo to come to Australia in 1981. I too did not need to come to Australia.

His family home was on what would have been the best part of the village, along the main road in the centre of town. There is still a stone fence facing the sea today, which had belonged to the Murakami family. This block is now sub divided into three lots with houses on each end and a vacant block in the middle. This vacant block is now owned by Yasuko Pearl.

When Yasukichi returned to Japan in 1925, he found that the Murakami family had fallen on hard times and their property had been sold to others. With money he had earned in Australia, Yasukichi bought back part it and housed his mother there. This is the vacant block owned by Yasuko Pearl today.

Hearing this story made me a little teary. It was not so much that I was moved by the actions of a faithful son, but that of the diasporic condition.

It is recorded in Yasukichi’s unsuccessful Australian application for naturalization in 1939 that he had returned to Japan for “holidays” in 1925. It is our diasporic condition that touches my heart. Whilst others enjoy their holidays in exotic and fun-filled destinations, when people like Yasukichi, myself and so many of us who have crossed the seas go on our holiday, we mostly go back to where our loved ones live, and we do what we will to reconnect and rekindle that love. And then we move back to another life with other loved ones.

The day I left Tanami, Ruruka decided to perform for her grandfather Yasukichi Murakami on this vacant block of land that she would most probably inherit one day. I videoed her performance to take back to Australia and to play it back by Yasukichi’s grave in Cowra.

Ruruka Minami performing in sign on the stone wall by her family block. Still image from video by Mayu Kanamori

Ruruka Minami performing in sign on the stone wall by her family block. Still image from video by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

* For Ruruka Minami’s Shuwa Nikki (Sign Language Diary), click here.

* For more on the diasporic condition via a speech transcript for the Japanese on the Move, a project by Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi, click here.

The Family Photo Album

Julie Murakami shared her family album she had inherited from her great-uncle Peter Sakichi Murakami. When he passed away, Julie said to her aunty, “Please don’t throw away the photos.” And so the family photo album was entrusted to her, and Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs of his wife and children survived another generation.

Julie allowed me to copy photograph these precious family photographs for this project. There was a photograph of Yasukichi’s wife Theresa sitting on a cart with their oldest daughter Kathleen Masuko Murakami, Julie’s grandmother. As I looked through the viewfinder onto this photograph to photograph it, I intuitively knew the exact spot Yasukichi had focused on – the eyes of young Kathleen. I too focused on her eyes, and she was returning my gaze. Or was it Yasukichi’s gaze? Through the viewfinder, for a moment, I thought was Yasukichi. Or was it Yasukichi’s ghost photographing through me?

Theresa Shigeno & Kathleen Masuko Murakami in Broome, Western Australia circa 1920. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy of Julie Murakami.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Visual collaboration in the cemetery part 2

As promised, Tomoko Yamada directed the photo shoot that took place at the Japanese Cemetery in Broome.

Emulating the historical photograph of Yasukichi Murakami and his friends taken on the eve of the Bon celebrations sometime in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, Tomoko stood in place of the buddhist priest who was present, myself in place of Murakami, my friend Cauline Masuda, the oldest daughter of the oldest Japanese former pearl diver in Broome Akira Masuda, Tomoko’s friends Yurie Tamagawa, Mia Tucker and Michiyo Tucker stood by Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave.

Strange how one thing leads to another unexpected turn of events. In search of Murakami has lead me to collaborate with Tomoko to create this contemporary photograph of Japanese diasporic women in Broome.

Then as a result of this photo shoot I have decided to organise a fundraising event at my friends’ Yuga Cafe & Gallery in Glebe, Sydney so that a Japanese buddhist priest could travel to Broome to read a sutra and hold a kuyo ceremony during the next Bon season.

The Japanese Cemetery in Broome is in need of a buddhist priest.

Tomoko Yamada, Yurie Tamagawa, Cauline Masuda, Mayu Kanamori, Mia Tucker and Michiyo Tucker by Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave at Japanese Cemetery, Broome. Photo directed by Tomoko Yamada, taken with timer & tripod.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Murakami’s photographic studio

Yasukichi Murakami’s studio must have been around where Bungalow Bar or where Camdons Broome Pearls and Fine Jewellery stands now.

In search of where Murakami’s photographic studio may have been, I walked up and down around the block between Canravon St, Short St, Dampier Terrace and old Johnny Chi Lane in Broome’s Chinatown. Because of advertisement records in old phone books, we know that Nishioka’s Emporium where Eki started her photographic studio at the back of the shop had its address in Canarvon St. But back of the emporium where the studio was may have faced Dampier Terrace or the old Johnny Chi Lane. That would have been very early 1900s.

Carol Tang Wei, the co author of The Story of the Chinese in Broome has created a map of China Town circa 1935 – 1940 based on her mother’s memories. In her map there is a Japanese photographer’s studio on Dampier Terrace, three doors down from the corner of Short St. Is it possible that Murakami’s photographic studio moved their premises between his earlier days in Broome and just before he moved to Darwin? Perhaps the studio always remained in the same spot — either where the Bungalow Bar or next door where the Camdons Broome Pearls and Fine Jewellery stands today.

Bungalow Bar and Camdon’s on Dampier Terrace, China Town, Broome. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

On the morning of my departure from Broome, my long time close friend and fellow photographer Jon Armstrong and I met in China Town. It was Jon who taught me how to use Final Cut Pro to tell stories with still photographs. I asked him to photograph me in front of the Bungalow Bar on Dampier Terrace.

There is a photograph of young Murakami held at the Broome Museum. It must have been Eki who photographed him. The caption on the photograph reads: Murakami Aged 21. Photo taken outside Nishioka Store. Item Dated 1st May 1901. Eki was the one who brought the camera to Australia and she taught Murakami how to take photographs. To ask Jon to photograph me in front of the Bungalow Bar seemed to me like the most natural thing to do.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Yu’s Chinese door

For the last four weeks I have lived in Sarah and Peter Yu’s home. Whilst being away from home, battling out my days chasing Murakami, fighting self-doubt, wondering if this project is getting anywhere, Peter and Sarah have been my family. They have not only given me a bed and a desk to write my blogs from, but fed me polyethnic Broome food (Asia meets saltwater county – such as fresh white fleshed salmon fishcakes with bok choy, mushroom soy and chili mud crabs) and kept me feeling loved throughout. In a very Yu family style, their dinner table has been full of people – family, friends and visitors from all over the world. People of all colors, shades, hues, saturations, foregrounds and backgrounds occupy their outdoor dining area with a large dining table.

Wondering how best to photograph my hosts, I was browsing through the Yamamoto Collection of photographs, donated in 1999 to Noreen Jones by Noriko Yamamoto. I decided it would make sense that I asked Sarah and Peter to pose for me much like some of the portraits from this collection in front of their Chinese doors which separate their private quarters from their outdoor dining and entertainment area. These doors Sarah found in Perth speak the of the Chinese side of Peter’s heritage – the other side being of Yawuru people of Broome. Sarah was born in New Castle, NSW and of English decent, met Peter in whilst working in Kunanurra thirty years ago, and never left the Kimberley since.

Yasukichi Murakami’s portrait work from the Nishioka Emporium /Photographic studio showed how many Japanese married couples were photographed in Broome in the early 1900’s – Japanese people mostly married each other. In early 2000’s, however married couples are no longer of the same ethic origin, especially in Broome.

Sarah and Peter Yu in traditional studio portrait style pose in front of their Chinese door. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Visual collaboration in the cemetery

There is a photograph kept in the Broome Museum of a group of Japanese men dressed in formal looking clothes (white, much like the pearling masters) with one boy and a a man dressed like a Japanese Buddhist priest in front of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave. The caption on the photograph reads:

Japanese Men at Cemetery on eve of annual Bon Matsuri Festival. Boy standing in front of Yasukichi Murakami. Grave of T. Nishioka died 9/03/1901.

Murakami is the only one identified in this photograph, reminding me that he is one of the very few among thousands of Japanese who had been in Broome to have left his mark in history as an individual remembered by name. Someone in the community, perhaps many years after the war, remembered and identified him in this photograph.

I showed a copy of this photograph to Tomoko Yamada, a Japanese fiber and millinery artist who recently migrated from Osaka to Broome to live with her partner, and requested her collaboration. Together during the Shinju Festival this year, Tomoko and I will create a photograph at the Japanese Cemetery. I asked her to bring with herself, four other women and a girl of her choice and then to let me know the processes of the choice of people she brings to take part in this collaboration. They need not be Japanese necessarily. I requested women – simply because there are only men in this original photo. We will put up a tripod and I will stand in place of Murakami. She will be whoever she would like to be.

Tomoko noticed from the photograph and its caption that the men were dressed formally because of Bon. Bon in Japan is an annual celebration during the full moon in August when spirits of the dead is said to return to this world. People return to their homelands, visit their ancestral graves and enjoy festivities with food, sake and dance. The annual Shinju Festival (Matsuri) in Broome have their origins in Bon, when the Japanese in town held festivities at Broome’s Japanese Cemetery.

Artist Tomoko Yamada at her home. Photograph by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori