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

 

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

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