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: https://aai5conference.wordpress.com/

More info: AASRN https://aasrn.wordpress.com/

 

Somehow, of love and immortality

Upon returning from photographing a wedding on Pearl Beach last weekend, I found a message from a man named Greg Leon in Melbourne:

I have just seen a news article at ABC Online… regarding Yasukichi Murakami and your biographical work on him. The article mentioned the scarcity of his photographs from his Darwin years. I have a set of 15 photographs that Mr Murakami may have taken of my parents when they were married in Darwin in May 1940. If you are interested please let me know… Regards, Greg

Interested?! This is what I’ve been doing for nearly 3 years: Looking for Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs, especially from Darwin.

I telephoned Greg immediately.

Back of the envelope

Back of the envelope found by Greg Leon.

Dear Mayu,

I was surprised and delighted to receive your call today. The timing was something of a coincidence as I was scheduled this afternoon to perform (inter alia) a song I wrote that refers to Murakami-san’s photos of my parents’ wedding in Darwin in 1940. For info, I am a part-time singer-songwriter (and a semi-retired IT Consultant, Project Manager, Business Analyst).

I have attached scans of the envelope in which I found the photos (as film negatives). I have also attached one of the images revealing the shadow of the photographer!

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

When I was a younger photographer working for Fairfax Media, many of my colleagues said wedding photography was not a path to pursue for a serious photojournalist. Yet I enjoyed enjoy being of service as a photographer who endeavours to leave memories of love.

Photographing a wedding gives a photographer a great chance for his / her work to serve for generations to come. In a sense, it is our best shot at immortality.

Greg added:

My parents were Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon. Both were born in Adelaide, but my father’s family were from Melbourne. I understand that they met in Darwin just three weeks prior to their wedding. I am not sure when they returned to Adelaide, but I assume it was prior to 1941. After the start of the “Pacific” war, my father enlisted and went to New Guinea, while my mother remained in Adelaide as a nurse in one of the military hospitals. After I was born in 1947, my parents moved to Melbourne where I have spent the rest of my life to date.

Looking a little more critically – and from an amateur photographer’s perspective – some questions spring to mind:

– Why would a professional photographer allow his shadow to fall within the frame?

– Wouldn’t a professional photographer retain the negatives, rather than returning them to the client?

– Looking at the photographs as a set, I cannot help thinking they are almost too casual for a pro.

So, the Big One: was Murakami-san the actual photographer, or did he just process the film as a service for the person who took the photographs? What do you think?

Looking forward to further discussion!

Best regards, Greg

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami's.

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami’s.

I do not know all the answers.

I know that when I had photographed weddings on negatives, I often gave the negatives to the bride and groom. They are best with them, and not for us to keep a hold on the work we have taken part and brought to creation.

Murakami did leave his shadow in two of his family photographs.  There could be many more. John E deB Norman told me once that he has a photograph of Eki Nishioka’s shadow. Perhaps it was Eki who taught Murakami to leave his shadow in a photo every so often.

Somehow, the words love and immortality to come to mind.

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Hearing the voice of creative development

Kunihiko Hashimoto and Arisa Yura during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Miho Watanabe

Kunihiko Hashimoto and Arisa Yura during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Miho Watanabe

 

The 3-week creative development of my Murakami project at Macquarie University’s Drama Studio began with director Malcolm Blaylock, producer Annette Shun Wah / Performance 4a, dramaturg Jane Bodie, dramaturgic consultant Dr Yuji Sone, production manager Kevin Ng, actors Kunihiko Hashimoto, Yumi Umiumare, Arisa Yura and myself, reading my manuscript matched with photographs, which somehow just passed as a “theatre script”, only because of Jane’s extensive doctoring in the 8 weeks prior.

As with my earlier performance works, how I manage to put forth an idea in blind faith, and then after doing the necessary work in small steps over a time,  finding myself in a creative space full of extremely talented and experienced performance makers is truly humbling, uplifting, and in many ways, mind-boggling. Nevertheless, thanks to my collaborators, my research into Yasukichi Murakami’s life and my search for his missing photographs was on its way to becoming a performance work.

In nervousness, I once again held conversations in my mind with Murakami’s ghost.

Have I done the right thing?  Have I made the right decisions? Do you think this is working? Sometimes I lack in clarity if these questions should end with “for you”, “for me”, “for the work itself” or “for the wider good, ” and if the difference in those question endings change  the question and its answers.

Some say I am becoming mad, whilst others say I am lacking in intuition, but  Murakami’s ghost never seems to answer me immediately. And when I think I have heard his voice, I am often unsure if I heard him correctly. As at first hearing, it is difficult to tell whether I am hearing his voice, what I think his voice might be, or that his voice is heard through the filter of my own ego, or a voice from my higher self, pretending I was someone I am not quite ready to become, but wished I was, or simply the voices of others or perhaps other ghosts. So ok,  I do sound mad… but creative development, it was.

The immediate reaction of my collaborators to my “script” appeared positive. They liked it, or so I thought, which made me relax a little. On the second reading of the “script”, however many differing opinions began to surface. Some were structural, others to do with different layers of understanding of the text, material and methods. And strong those opinions were. One thing we all agreed upon was that it was important to tell the story of Yasukichi Murakami.

Yumi Umiumare during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Miho Watanabe

Yumi Umiumare during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Miho Watanabe

As we exchanged ideas and debated, the written words became spoken words, ghosts found their embodiments, images projected, and by the time composer and sound designer Terumi Narushima joined us in the second week, the “script” had gone through many changes, including the inevitable and often welcome changing back, like a dance moving to and fro between rawness and refinement, creative and receptive, intuition and understanding.

On the last week, we invited a small group of people to a work-in-progress showing.  As pathetic as this sounds, I cried a lot during this week. I was emotional, partly because of fatigue, but mostly because there was something so very moving about working with a group of talented artists who were able to take what I had grappled with for the past 3 years, create and put into shape a work which was shown to potential presenters and partners.

Yasukichi Murakami’s story is beginning to take shape. His voice is slowly being heard through a collective voice and listening of those who endeavour to hear him.

Terumi Narushima during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Terumi Narushima during creative development of Murakami. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-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.

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

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

Julie Murakami

Julie Murakami and I met in a restaurant in Rapid Creek, a suburb of Darwin for a Japanese meal. After sharing with her my efforts to date of locating photographs Yasukichi Murakami had left behind, she helped me with the family tree on her father’s side of her family, starting with Jubei and Yasu, Yasukichi’s parents from Tanami in Wakayama Prefecture.

Yasukichi married Theresa Shigeno and had nine children, six boys and three girls. Julie is the daughter of David Yoshiji, who is the second son of Kathleen Masuko and Yoshio Murakami. Kathleen Masuko is the oldest daughter of Yasukichi and Theresa. Julie’s father David Yoshiji Murakami was born in an internment camp in Tatura.

Julie had contacted me last year by commenting on this project blog, letting me know that she was Yasukichi’s great granddaughter. Since then we have kept contact by email, exchanging information about her great-grandfather, and we decided to join forces in our search of his legacy.

Rapid Cafe at Rapid Creek Business Village. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

In Cowra finding Murakami’s grave

My collaborator Dr Lorna Kaino and I drove through the Blue Mountains, past Bathurst and arrived in Cowra in search for Yasukichi Murakami’s grave.

My first visit to Cowra was in 1997 when I arrived at the Japanese Gardens to install fifty photographs from my exhibition Unseen Faces of Japan which had been exhibited at the Japan Cultural Centre Sydney (Japan Foundation) six months earlier. Since then I have been here a dozen times, and as years pass and my understanding of history, war, peace, and people have deepened, so has my understanding of Cowra.

Yasukichi Murakami is buried in the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra. All Japanese people who died in Australia during WWII are buried here. Unknown airmen, POWs and civilian internees, like Murakami.

His grave somehow feels out of place.

Lorna commented that she somehow had been expecting a monument more outstanding as he was an outstanding figure in our minds. Yet like all graves around the world associated with war, his grave looks identical to everyone else’s, all neatly in a row one after another. Even with all his achievements and leadership, friendships with people in high places along with his 47 years in this country, none of it made any difference in the end.

But then again, every single person here buried would have a story to tell, a mother and a father, people they loved and people who loved them, even the 3 day old baby and the unknown airman who air raided Darwin. When I remember this I realise that Murakami, although may have a common grave like everyone, else has earned his name. He is in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. And here we are, Lorna and I, searching and finding his grave 67 years after his death.

Yasukichi Murakami’s grave at Japanese War Cemetery, Cowra. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– 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

The intuition

How do I tell the difference between Eki’s photographs and Murakami’s? Luckily for me, Noreen Jones, the author of No 2 Home was back in town.

Without delay I saw her in her son’s home in Broome. No 2 Home has been for me one of the most inspirational books written in the last ten years. I have read and re-read chapters of her book like a bible, taking notes and making use of the valuable information she has shared with us all. I had so many questions for her:

Who was H. Wada, the photographer who has left many photographs in the Mise Photographic Collection, which is held by Jones. Does she mind if I exhibited my photographs alongside the photographs in her collections? Who were the other five Japanese photographers she mentions in her book? Is one of them Eki? Is Wada the other? In the Jones’ National Archives collection, there is a copy of the certificate exempting Hichijiro Wada from the dictation test. Is this the same H. Wada?

How do I tell the difference between Eki’s photographs and Murakami’s?

Of course no one can know, but perhaps it is possible to know intuitively. As a photographer I know this is possible. I want to learn more.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Kennedy Hill

“Mr Murakami was the second best photographer Broome has ever had,” John E deB Norman, the co-author with Verity Norman of A Pearling Master’s Journey: in the wake of the Schooner Mistsaid on the phone. In his opinion Eki, the wife of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka was Broome’s best photographer ever. ” But Mr Murakami was the better with indoor photography and in particular group and solo studio portraits at which he excelled.”

So provocative was this thought – a woman photographer in the early 1900’s being the best photographer the town ever had, I immediately requested audience with him at his home with his wife Verity.

When asked further, he told me that Mrs Eki Nishioka understood light and most of the outdoor photographs of the time were taken by her. He mentioned a particular photograph of the luggers taken from Kennedy Hill on the preface of his book (Broome Creek image (page xiii courtesy of the Western Australian Museum) would have been taken by her. He thought this particular photograph demonstrated a collaboration between Murakami and Eki: Murakami carried the tripod up Kennedy Hill for Eki, but it was Eki who had photographed the luggers among the mangroves, not Murakami.

Equipped with these thoughts, I later climbed up Kennedy Hill much like Eki and Murakami must have done, but I was on my own, and so to reduce the weight over my shoulders, I had left my tripod behind in my car. Even then it was difficult to climb the sand dune with my equipment to get to where I could photograph the sea scape below, carefully avoiding sea shells and broken glass, presumably left by the illegal campers evicted from Kennedy Hill about a year ago.

The blades of broken glass were glistening in the afternoon light and were no longer threateningly sharp . They had slightly weathered over the previous year, making me wonder how long it would take for the multi colored glass of green, brown, orange and crystal to lose its edges enough to look like a precious jewel.

The sun casted strange shadows along my path and I felt like my mind was in another world and that I could feel someone in the distance watching me. I reached the top of the hill, but there were no luggers below. Just overgrown mangroves, but as I began photographing, I could almost hear the shouting and jostling of sea men at shore and the laughter of women who waited for them.

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– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Don’t make eye contact (with the heathen Asiatics)

Aunty Pearl Hamaguchi showed me three beautiful studio portraits of her mother Mary Barbara Lynott, photographed by Murakami. Mary Barbara Lynott was a Stolen Generation, taken to Beagle Bay Catholic Mission from Ruby Plains Station in East Kimberley , then sent to Broome to work as a servant girl for pearling masters.

“…. I used to love to hear her stories of her walks every Sunday after Mass to China Town. That was the only time they were allowed. So mother had all these photographs. Oh, about six of them I think there was all together. Mama, you got these lovely portraits. How did you possibly, you know, you were just a poor servant girl. Oh, no, no, no, she said. When us girls would walk down to China Town, with strict instructions from nuns, not to make eye contact with the heathen Asiatics, We’d pass Murakami’s photography shop. And he’d be waiting for mum. Barbara, Barbara, Eva. Mother’s very good friend Aunty Eva was beautiful woman as well. And can you imagine them in the finery in the 1930s. Lovely hat, lovely white dress with white stockings and whatever. Little handkerchief and five shillings or whatever they had to spend. He would look out for her. He would look out for these convent girls, you know. Barbara, please sit for me. I want to take your portrait. I want to take your portrait. Oh, I said. What did he look like? Oh, she said, he was very good-looking. And I’m thinking, but mother, why didn’t you… (laugh). She said I think he had a crush on me. That was my mother’s story….” – Pearl Hamaguchi

Mary Barbara Lynott photographed by Yasukichi Murakami

– 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

Talking with Senpai (s) (先輩)

For sometime now, it has been customary for me to visit the Japanese Cemetery in Broome almost immediately after my arrival. I do not feel settled into the community and feel superstitious about starting a project here until I pay my respects to my senpai(s) (先輩), at the cemetery.

When I walk through the gates, I feel the burden on my shoulders lift. Walking down the central pathway leading to the back of the cemetery adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery, I find myself talking with the dead.

I am back again, I let them know, and ask them how things have been since my last visit.

When I near the injured tombstone, vandalized only couple of years ago, I feel a sharp pain to see the once handsome tombstone so violently reduced to third of its original size. I say hello, let him know that I am back, and assure him I have a photograph of his tombstone before the attack.

It does not matter after all: everyone’s tombstones weather and disappear eventually. It is beautiful that it disappears and that once we are forgotten, we are finally free.

I know this.

But I am a photographer.

Like Murakami.

I cannot stop documenting, trying to preserve, trying to capture a moment in the flow of time. Something about my wish to document for posterity feels very human and a very sad part of being human at that.

In the north east section of the cemetery are the newer burials. I spend more time in this corner, letting each person know that I am back. I spend most of the time by Uncle Hama’s grave. I remember our first meeting, when he told me he was disgusted by young Japanese women these days, dying and perming their naturally jet black straight hair. A the time my hair was permed and was dyed slightly brown. I remember being embarrassed.

No one is in the cemetery other than couple of tourists a good twenty meters away. There is a gentle afternoon breeze. Out loud, I let Uncle Hama know I am back and explain to him my two reasons for being back.

I am back in Broome.

I am here to work with young people, passing on my skills as a photographer and story-teller as part of a project called Broome: You Are Here.

I am here to find about my photographic senpai (先輩), Yasuskichi Murakami as part of a project called 3 Japanese Photographers.

As I leave the cemetery, I let everyone there know that I will be back again.

Detail, Uncle Hama’s grave, Japanese Cemetery, Broome, West Australia Photo: Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

A Gift

My collaborator Lorna Kaino had once lived and worked in Broome and now is a senior lecturer at Curtin University. In between an excursion to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and over lunch and dinner at Taka’s Japanese Restaurant in Shafto Lane, Lorna and I exchanged ideas, explored possibilities, made plans for our project, and wrote down our immediate tasks.

She had already spent time researching Murakami, and presented me with a photocopy of images from the Mise Photographic Collection, donated to Norren Jones by Tamae Mise in 1999. Back in my hotel room, I began to sift through pages of our precious gift: old photographs handed down from Tamae Mise to Noreen Jones, and now for Lorna and I to pass on to people after us.

From a single moment in early days of the last century, posed in front of the camera with their eyes — eyes staring straight into the camera lens, passed through the printing process, hands of many people, finding itself out of Broome, out of Australia to Ehime Prefecture in Japan, then back to Western Australia, scanned, photocopied and now staring at me in my hotel room in Perth.

Young Tamae Mise was photographed, presumably by Murakami in his studio with Kamesaburo Mise, who may have been her young father or an uncle — perhaps a much older brother. Tamae looks aboout three years old — and Kamesaburo looks about twenty-one. The photograph is not dated.

I think Murakami had photographed this portrait because there is a printed signature on the bottom left hand corner of the mount, which reads “Y. Nishioka.” Nishioka is the family name of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka, who I understand was the shop owner who took young Murakami under his care whilst they were both in Cossack, ‘adopted’ Murakami and together moved to Broome, and set up a shop, which they used as part photographic studio for the Japanese community in Broome. It is part of Japanese practice to take on the surname of the ‘adopted’ family. Lorna who is more experienced and me in historical research has pointed out that a Y. Nishioka signature may not necessarily mean it was Murakami’s photography…. it may have been Nishioka’s his wife! And indeed, it may have been his wife – or is assistant – or his teacher who took the photograph.

There is another photograph of Kamesaburo Mise in the collection, this one as a baby, presumably with his mother Kikuye, taken, according to what was given to me in the bounded photocopies, circa 1905 with the same Nishioka signature on its mount. I am assuming that this date is based what was passed onto Noreen Jones by Tamae Mise, but I may be wrong. Yet in another photograph, young Kamesaburo is photographed in a Japanese junior school uniform, this time with a printed signature by H. Wada. Who is Wada? Another Japanese photographer who I did not know about about? H. Wada left many photographs behind as part of the Mise Photographic Collection. His studio backdrops and mounts differ to those of Murakami, and at least in the Mise Photographic Collection, there are many photographs taken on location, such as in front of the Japanese hospital in Broome (circa 1921-25) and Ehime Club Association’s 10th Memorial Sumo Tournament on New Year’s Day 1 January 1922.

In the photograph in front of the Japanese hospital which Wada took, Murakami is identified. He is sitting next to the central figure Doctor Masuyama.

– Mayu Kanamori

About Murakami

About Murakami is my dialogue with Yasukichi Murakami (1880 – 1944). Murakami was a Japanese born photographer who arrived in Cossack when he was sixteen years old. He later moved to Broome and began his career as a photographer. After moving to Darwin he opened his own photographic studio. He was interned in Tatura during WWII. He died whilst interned and is now buried in the Japanese Cemetery in Cowra.

My project blog records the process of creating a performance About Murakami.

This project is an initiative in collaboration with Dr Lorna Kaino.

I am on my way to Broome to find out more about him and to listen to him through his photographs – about his life in Australia, about being a professional photographer and being of Japanese diaspora.

Mayu Kanamori