Art, Advocacy, & Accountability

Recently I was given the opportunity to speak at the 5th Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) conference “mobilities” (26-27 Nov 2015) at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne as part of a panel entitled “Creative politics, political creations”. Chaired by fellow artist Asian Australian artist  Owen Leong.

The talk was about ethics and social responsibilities of an artist, using examples from my theatre work Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens. I would like to share it with you:

“When you have art, you have a voice. When you have a voice, you have freedom. When you have freedom, you have responsibility.” 

This quote by Indigenous artist, activist and leader Richard Frankland is what inspires my talk today. Using examples from my recent work, Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, I will discuss some of the issues that an artist may face in regards to our social responsibilities.

Here are some areas of my ethical concerns of late.

Identity, diaspora, imagined borders

  1. Story-telling and its limitations
  2. Historical or factual accuracies and theatrical licences
  3. Archiving and documentation
  4. Audience, stakeholders and authenticity
  5. Publicity, media and advocacy

I will go through each one of them.

  1. Identity, diaspora and imagined borders

I am a migrant artist. I was born in Japan and I’ve been telling stories about Japanese diaspora in Australia for some time. I can’t help but to wonder about the ethics of this.

Are we now not transnational / transcultural / trans everything, transcending those imaginary borders nations, heritage or ethnicity? I know it is my condition that I am of Japanese heritage, but do I need to keep making art about this? My ethics tells me to be inclusive of all people and not to draw borders between you and I, us and the other. To rise above those boundaries that keeps us separate.

Yes, my art is political…. But I actually believe that political leaders shouldn’t be divisive.

How I address this particular question is to believe  – this is a belief – that I am being of service to communities; to perhaps vainly believe that I am making some sort of a contribution. Firstly to the Japanese diasporic community by giving a voice, then to the wider Asian Australian community to speak as loudly as I can. And then contributing to a even the wider community; to tell a part of little known Australian story for all. And then finally, telling the kind of story that would unite humanity in resonance instead of that which would divide us.

For those who don’t know my recent work Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, it’s a story about a contemporary Japanese Australian photographer, Mayu, a character based on me, searching for the lost photographs of a historical Japanese Australian photographer, Yasukichi Murakami. It combines narration, documentary photographs and interviews, live music, dramatic action with actors and scripted dialogue between Mayu, Murakami’s ghost and ghost of Murakami’s first wife Eki Nishioka, who taught Murakami how to take photographs.

Murakami is not a fictional character. We know that he came to Australia in 1897, lived in Broome, then in Darwin as a photographer, inventor and entrepreneur. When WWII started, he was interned as an enemy alien, and died in the camp. And because of that, his life time worth of photographs have gone missing.

Before I made Murakami, I worried about telling stories about the war. Actually, I worried even more about not telling stories about the war. Since the year 2000, I had created several performance works to do with the Japanese diaspora in Australia… and so, then, I ask myself…. how could I keep avoiding telling stories about WWII?

When it comes to things Japanese… WWII is a major subject. A subject that cannot be ignored.

It isn’t easy for someone of Japanese diaspora, especially today with the current Japanese government and their ideas on the past  – conservative, divisive and alarming.

Making Murakami was a social responsibility I had to taken on. To be of service to the world I live in, I had to engage with the war without making heroes out of soldiers. Murakami was a civilian, like you and I – his life in the hands of people who wish divide us.

  1. Story-telling and its limitations

I call myself a story-teller…. yet I’m increasingly suspicious of story-telling.

Story-telling has become a major force in our times. You go see a counsellor or read a self-help book or a blog on how to become happy or to be rich or whatever. They all tell you to write your story or rewrite your story. That story-telling is one the main ingredients for positive transformations to occur in our lives. Even the corporate sector now talks of story-telling through its content on social media as the key to successful brand loyalties.

But there is also problem with story-telling. Because although often stories carry moral and ethical codes that appear universal, often they also carry messages that can and should be questioned. Sometimes it carries out-dated and out-moded narratives.

As a woman of Japanese heritage… the story of Madama Butterfly for an example.

And in reality, not everything fits into the format of hero rescues damsel in distress or rags to riches. There is something wrong about trying to fit truth with a capital T into a story format, acceptable and accessible to all.

Having said that, Murakami’s story is a typical quest. Like Homer’s Odyssey, Mayu goes on a search for Murakami’s photographs, meets up with a mentor – the ghost of Murakami and Eki, encounters mysteries and struggles, then returns from her journey having found some of Murakami’s lost photographs, and in the process, learns some valuable life lessons.

All neatly fits into a quest format. But I worry about the ethics of this.

On her quest to find Murakami’s photographs, she found some in Japan.  They were Murakami’s family photographs he had sent to his mother in Japan during his lifetime in Australia.

Thus one of the lessons that Mayu learns from her quest is the importance of family and that family photographs are a key to immortality of his photographs. Family photographs – its heart warming lesson….

But, well, nothing in reality is so clean cut.

What I left out in the play is that Murakami’s most important photographs –  important to him – were not his family photographs, but a set of photographs he took whilst conducting experiments for his ground breaking diving suit design.

He actually had the foresight to take a photo album of his diving suit experiments with him to the internment camp. After the war, one of the family members kept the album, but was lost in Darwin in the 1970’s. Some say it was the cyclone, others tell me that it was lent to a researcher – a some what well known person in Darwin – who I won’t mention the name –never returned it to the family.

But this didn’t fit into our one hour story.

This brings me to my next point of discussion:

  1. Historical or factual accuracies and theatrical licences

I worried a lot about not including what happened to Murakami’s diving suit album in the play . To me it felt unethical.

But then again, its been like this all along – from the beginning – I wrote in the script that Murakami and his family moved to Darwin circa 1935. But of course by the time we had creative development workshops everyone told me that I can’t use the word circa in a script … So in the play, Murakami’s ghost tells the audience, “… in 1935, we all moved to Darwin!”

Who cares about facts… really, I’ve got a ghost in the play!! But I worry about my social responsibility.

So… I actually saw a channeller…. To me…. It somehow felt more ethical to hear Murakami speak through a channeller than to put words in a dead man’s mouth.

So I guess it makes my feel better that I’m telling you all this today. And I’m hoping to put today’s talk up on my About Murakami process blog so its all on record.

Which brings me to my next point of discussion:

  1. Archiving and documentation

My process blog is where I write things that get sieved out of the actual artwork outcome. It includes process videos, photos and written thoughts during the entire process of the project. It also includes a full bibliography for future researchers.

I am also now preparing captions for the 200 or so photographs I found for archiving by the State Library of WA. If I don’t do this, Murakami’s photographs will be lost again.

My sense of social responsibility says I’ve got to do these things in service and contribution for the good of wider communities.

  1. Audience, stakeholders and authenticity

Social responsibility includes the audience. This means certain decisions need to be made which takes the audience into consideration… whether it be entertaining or inspiring or educational, I feel that audience needs to get something out of my show.

I also think that my creative collaborators need to get something out of it. As well as the Murakami Family – the descendants need to get something out of my arts practice.

So I think about what this something may be – but of course, it means for different things for different people.

The result is that best I keep good for all in mind, and that means that as long as universal values – what I believe are universal – of that which is to be human being are strong and constant enough – then the specifics should takes care of itself. And that means universals values throughout – not just in the art work itself, but in the process of creation and all other work I do, creative or other wise, that pertains to this project – and not just this project – but to live authentically in all that I do.

I know this sounds all airy fairy and unrealistic – nor am I perfect. And when conflicts arise, which inevitably it always does at some point, the only way to be is to refocus on higher ground, then let go.

  1. Publicity, media and advocacy

As artists we have a chance to talk to the wider world with help of media, traditional or through social media. Although often the immediate reason behind this is to publicise a show, I see it as a chance express higher thoughts and ways of being for the betterment of the whole.

To advocate being in service for humanity.

I’m just an independent artist. I’m not even a scholar…. But with my tiny tiny tiny being as an artist, I’m going to be the political leader – starting with my constituency, then extending wider – I am going to be the political leader I want all our politicians to be.

Thank you!

Mayu Kanamori Nov, 2015

More info: mobilities conference:

More info: AASRN



Crowd funding – Thank you!

A huge thanks to Pozible supporters and generous donors for helping us get our Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens to Darwin Festival!

Our thank yous can also be found on:

Performance 4a


Abraham Hammoud Jodie Bell Rainer Fors
Adam Wojcinski Joe Murakami Ren Yano
Akiko Tomizawa John Winter Richard Wang
Alexandra McCallum Josh Mu Richard Watts
Alison Cook Juanita Kwok Rod Freedman
Alissar Chidiac Julie Melbourne Ronald Dirkse
Amanda Macri Julie Muir Rosalind Richards
Amanda thompson Julie Murakami Rowena Ward
Ann MacArthur Jun Hamana Ryoko Freeman
Anna Yen Kabuki Shoroku & Sakuratei Japanese Restaurant S Hesse
Anne Norman Karin Matsuda Sachi Hirayama
Anthony Pelchen Kata Lance Sakiko Johnson
Asako Kobayashi Kathryn Hunyor Sally Lewry
Ayako Payako Tsunazawa Kathy Matsubara Sally Mizoshiri
Ben Hills Katy Fitzgerald Samantha Chester
Bob Lyness Kazuko Chalker Sampei Seko
Cat Elder Keiko Tamura Sandy Edwards
Cate Pearce Kerk Ross Sarah Griffin
Cherilyn Margetts Kevin Han Sarah yu
Chie Muraoka Language on the Move Sayako Nakagawa
Chiyoko Takeuchi lena Sayuri Hayashi
Chiz Annakin Lena Nahlous Sean Bacon
Christine Piper Linda Evans Setsuko Yanagisawa
Clare Grant Lisa Ko Kato Shane F
David Fujii Liz Pellinkhof Shimizu
Dean Chan Lorna Kaino Sophie Constable
Dean Kunihiro Lucas Ihlein Stuart Tanaka
Diana Nguyen Lynn Shimabukuro Blair Su Goldfish
Donna Chang Mai Nguyen-Long Suzie Nguyen
Elaine Chia Mako Takako Inoue
Elleni Chambiras Masayo Hasegawa Takashi Takiguchi
Ellie Tanaka Matthew Rooke Takenobu Hamaguchi
Emi Otsuji Maya Newell Tallace Bissett
Erica Mann Melissa Yoko Murakami Ted Ambery
Ernie Wakamatsu Mémé Thorne Tessa Morris-Suzuki
Etsuko Tomimura-Bossling Michael Cave Theo Baer
Fiona Winning Michael McCarville TK Mills
Gabrielle Chan Michael Turkic Tomoko Otsuka
Gail Bryant Miho Watanabe Tony Lewis
Gary Gene Fish Mika Nishimura Tseen Khoo
Geraldine Mitchell Mikkel Mynster Victoria Spence
Graham Hartley Mioko Tominaka Vienna Del Rosario Parreno
Grant Cleary Moni Lai Storz Viv Rosman
Gregory Fournier Mook Denton Willa Zheng
Hiromi Ashlin Murray Williams William Yang
Hitomi Kurosawa Mutsumi Tsuda Y Matsumoto
Hugh Cann Nicky Evans Yasushi Hirai
Ian Glass Noriko Ikaga Yike Gao
Ildiko Susany Noriko Shimada Yoshiaki & Seiko Matsunaga
Isobel Deane Norman Trott Yoshie mizuno
Jackie Woods Nozomi Wade Yujiro Shimogori
Jacky Okada Oliver Wenn Yuki Hokari Sim
Jen Kwok Paul & Jennifer Winch Yuko Yamamoto
Jenevieve Chang Pedro de Almeida Yumi Umiumare
Jennifer Wong Peter Alford Yuriko Nagata
Jim Kim Peter Fraser Yushiro Mizukoshi
Jimmy Dalton Peter R Phillips

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

In Appreciation

I am near the end of the creative development and rehearsal phase of Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, and I wanted to take a moment to thank the people and organisations that helped me get this far.

Of course the trouble is where to draw the line – I can think of so many more people who helped me along the way, simply being my friend, listening to me over a cup of tea at times of trouble or sharing a glass of wine with me when I had cause to celebrate. There are those who have contributed financially towards our crowd funding campaign, and others who helped me spread the word.

Names of the supporters of the Pozible / Murakami  fundraising campaign are listed in a separate post – click here.

… and my “thank you list: goes on, but here is a list of people who helped with the nitty-grittys, and I owe a heart-felt thanks to that I wanted to share on this blog today.

In alphabetical order…

Armstrong, Jon for your advice and taking photographs of me in Broome.

Asano, Wakako, Shigeaki Iwai, Vic McEwan and Satsuki Odamura for working with me in Japanese cemeteries and grave sites all over Australia in our project In Repose, which gave me the opportunity to begin hearing the ‘silent voices’.

Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) for your continuous support, education and inspiration.

Australia Japan Association of Northern Territory (AJANT) for hosting an artist-talk, which allowed me to ask the Darwin community to help me find Murakami’s photographs.

Barr, Françoise and Northern Territory Archives for dedicated, kind, detailed and lateral ways of help in researching Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs, records and Murakami family history.

Blaylock, Malcolm for directing Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, encouraging me to write a dialogue based script for the first time in my life, being my artistic collaborator since 2001, thoughtful contribution to the script, and the depth of understanding the refined sensitivities of the human condition.

Bodie, Jane for being a dramaturg for Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, sitting with me for many hours in front of my computer doctoring my half-baked script, all the whilst listening and honouring to what it was that I wanted to say.

Bracher, Michael, Richard McLean, Takenobu Hamaguchi, and the Paspaley Group for showing me the Paspaley Family Photographic Collection.

Brockman, Benjamin for being the calm and reliable production manager of Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens and QLab expert for rehearsals and Darwin Festival.

Chin, John for sharing stories on the Stone Houses and Murakami family.

Cleveland, Ken for acute feedbacks on early versions of the script, and providing me with seeds of thought.

Clocks and Clouds (Kraig Grady and Terumi Narushima) for music from their CD In A Pentagonal Room in the Diving Suit and Tanami scenes.

Dann, Lucy and family for taking photographs with me in Broome, and introducing me to old Broome families in the first place, when we first shared our time together in The Heart of the Journey.

Darwin Rondalla for music in the Darwin scene.

DeQuincey, Tess for constant encouragement and advice on this project.

Ensemble Offspring for music from their CD Behind The Keys in the promotional video.

Grady, Kraig for his handmade musical instruments.

Gruchy, Mic for your emotive and moving visual imagery in Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, audio-visual expertise, thorough ways of working, as well as calm and wisdom that comes with your wealth of experience.

Hamaguchi, Pearl for sharing photographs of your mother and friend taken by Yasukichi Murakami, and sharing many hours of stories about old Broome.

Hashimoto, Kuni for playing the part of Yasukichi Murakami’s ghost in Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, generously imparting your knowledge of theatre, assisting me with the script, and  continuously reminding  me of that which is of importance.

Hills, Ben for your support, behind the scenes encouragement, advice, listening to my complaints and looking after my general well-being.

Hirayama, Sachiko for giving me a home in Darwin and organising an artist talk, which allowed me to ask the Darwin community to help me find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Hirobe, Kyoko for channelling the spirit of Yasukichi Murakami, resulting in messages, which became the backbone of the script.

Jones, Noreen for your book Number 2 Home, a must read for all Japanese Australians, and sharing the old Mise and Yamamoto photographs from the Noreen Jones Photographic Collection.

Kaino, Lorna for being my first partner for this project, your series of essays, our joint conference paper in Canberra and Stuttgart on Yasukichi Murakami and being with me when we found his grave in Cowra

Kawai, Reiko for information about Darwin and continuing friendship since The Heart of the Journey.

Kobayashi, Asako and Go-Nichi Sunday Japanese Language Radio for assisting in calling out to the community to find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Khoo, Tseen for your continuous support, encouragement and being an on-line ally at all times of the development process of this project.

Kim-Pok,Teik and Playwriting Australia for your funding support, having me as part of Lotus Playwriting Project and for your invaluable advice in completing the script for this project.

Konomi, Masafumi and the Japan Foundation, Sydney for funding assistance in this project at a crucial stage in our development and for your on-going support for this project.

Kylie Jennings and the Broome Historic Society for well-versed help in researching Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs and history.

Lance, Kate for your immaculately researched book, Red Bill and your generosity in sharing your photographs and citations on the internet for all future researchers, as well as sharing with me your meticulous original source materials.

Lewis, Lee, Simon Wellington, Alicia Talbot, all at Griffin Theatre Company and all participants of Story Lab 2012 for giving me the inspiration and encouragement to continue developing this project.

Lo, Jacqueline for our continuing dialogues about Asian Australian art practices in performance, and your support, which gave me the courage to explore the Japanese diasporic condition and WWII.

Lunn, Edwina and Georgie Sedgewick for inclusion in the Darwin Festival 2014.

Lynette Atchison and the Northern Territory Library for the efficient and well-informed help in researching Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Maher, Chris and members of Shinju Matsuri Festival board for your inclusion in your 2014 program.

Masuda, Cauline for sharing a photograph of your grandmother taken by Yasukichi Murakami, visiting the Japanese Cemetery in Broome with me countless times, and your leadership in the Japanese community in Broome.

Masuda, Karin for channelling the spirit of Eki Nishioka, which became an important and poignant counter point in the script.

McEwan, Vic for sharing your music in the first stages of this project and for conference presentations in Stuttguard and Canberra.

Mills, Nichole, photographer Katrina Bridgeford, and the Sunday Territorian for making a call-out to the Northern Territory community to find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Mills, Terry for your support during my call out to the community to find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs from his days in Darwin, and for dialogues which inspired crucial aspects of the script development.

Mills,Vanessa and ABC Radio, Kimberley for your genuine interest in Yasukichi Murakami and old Broome history, and assisting in calling out to the community to find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Minami, Reiko (Ruruka) Murakami for meeting me in Tanami and introducing me to her mother, Yasuko Pearl Murakami Minami, sharing family photographs and showing me Tanami and Kushimoto.

Minami, Yasuko Pearl Murakami for inviting me to your home, and sharing your family photographs and stories about your father and family history.

Murakami Gold, Lorna for being the first person to let me know about Yasukichi Murakami back in 1998 when I was photographing you, by telling me that your great-grandfather was a Japanese photographer.

Murakami, Julie for contacting me after finding this blog, sharing your family photographs and stories, and spending many hours researching with me.

Murakami, Kevin for visiting me when I was in Broome to help me understand the importance of family and descendants.

Murakami, Kisaburo Joseph for on-going support for this project, sharing family photographs, not only to me, but also to your family members in Australia, information and stories about his father and family.

Muraoka, Chie for your patient and dedicated web design and mastering.

Nagata, Yuriko for your definitive book Unwanted Aliens: Japanese Internment in Australia during WWII, introducing me to Joseph Kisaburo Murakami, and your continuing support.

Nagata, Yuriko, Keiko Tamura, Lorna Kaino, Shigemi Kurahashi, Chie Maruoka, Jun Nagatomo and Nikkei Australia for your support and information exchange.

Narushima, Terumi for your exquisite and evocative music, being the composer / musician / sound designer for Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, understanding the social political significance of this work, and being in the same emotional space and spirit with me throughout the process.

Ng, Kevin for your dedication and enthusiasm as the technical manager and audio-visual expert during the creative development phase of Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens.

Norman, J.E. deB and late G.V. Norman for your book A Pearling Master’s Journey and sharing stories of old Broome and your family history.

Pampolha, Luiz for being the lighting designer for Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, adding to the production the essential refinement, atmosphere and your depth of experience for the production.

Shun Wah, Annette and Performance 4a for producing Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, your wisdom, commitment, resilience, significant advice on script development and story-telling,  for being a pioneer for us all, and the depth of your understanding the wider meaning of this work.

Silva, David for your access to your galleries in the Stone Houses, support in my research and continuing to be the photographic guardian of the Stone Houses, Yasukichi Murakami’s former home and studio.

Sister Pat Rhatigan, Helen Martin and Sisters of St John of God Heritage Centre, Broome for sharing your extensive photographic collection for this project.

Skrzynski, Hannah, Teik Kim Pok, Jennifer Wong, Annette Shun Wah and Performance 4a for running our successful Pozible fundraising campaign.

Sone, Yuji for being the dramaturgical consultant and continuing to support this project, your wealth of knowledge, advice, and giving me a second chance despite my initial failed attempt at creating this work as a Master of Arts Degree.

Sone, Yuji, David Mitchell, Marcus Eckerman and Macquarie University, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts for partnering this project, giving us technical support, providing filming, editing and invaluable dramaturgical consultancy and a home for our development and rehearsals.

Steer Adam, Claire Rawlinson and ABC Radio, Darwin for assisting in calling out to the community to find Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs.

Tamura, Keiko for being at Yasukichi Murakami’s grave and helping me listen to his voice.

Tanaka, Elly for providing the kimono and expertise needed for Yumi Umiumare / Eki Nishioka’s wardrobe support.

Terushima, Narumi for your exquisite and evocative music, being the composer / musician / sound designer for Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, understanding the social political significance of this work, and being in the same emotional space and spirit with me throughout the process.

Theatre Board, Australia Council for the Arts for providing the necessarily support in funding for this project in two of its crucial phases.

Thompson, Jacinta (former Artistic Director, OzAsia Festival) and OzAsia Festival for inclusion in the OzAsia Festival 2014.

Tominaka, Yoshie and Mioko for giving me support, practical, yet humorous advice and a home in Japan whilst researching this project.

Tsuda, Mutsumi for additional contemporary and historical photographs for this project, and on-going artistic dialogue.

Umiumare, Yumi for being (it seems not quite right to say ‘playing the part of’) the part of Eki Nishioka’s ghost in video for Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, consistently reminding me to speak my truth and to express what it is that I need to express as an artist and human being.

Watanabe, Miho for photographing our creative development showing and our publicity photographs.

Wells, Micheal  for detailed information on the Stone Houses and trusting me to complete this project.

Wells, Michael, Karen Moir and Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment for giving this project its first funding for development.

Werner, Koko  for channelling the spirit of Yasukichi Murakami, with messages, which assisted the latter stages of the script development, and filling in my then blind spots.

Wood, Joanne and the Australian National Archives, Darwin Branch, for enthusiastic help in researching Yasukichi Murakami’s records, and the Australian National Archives for permission to reproduce records held in their collection.

Yamada, Tomoko for organising the Broome Cemetery O-bon photo shoot by Takazo Nishioka’s grave.

Yu, Peter and Sarah for giving me a place to stay in Broome, Peter’s gorgeous cooking and Sarah and Nyamba Buru Yawauru‘s ongoing projects and engagements, allowing me multiple trips to Broome as well as to further my understanding of old Broome and the history of pearling.

Yura, Arisa for playing the part of Mayu in Yasukichi Murakami – Through A Distant Lens, your dedication in spending much time in dialogue with me to understand my  journey, as well as taking the time to discover photography, coming to Cowra to Yasukichi Murakami’s grave, to meet his family.

… the list to be continued.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori