Murakami for recognition and rememberance for all

Unlike my usual visits to Yasukichi Murakami’s grave at the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra,  on 9th of March 2014, I heard many voices of those alive today, and not just the dead and buried.

(L to R) Melissa Yoko Murakami (Perth), Julie Murakami (Darwin), Reiko Ruruka Minami Murakami (Japan) , Calvin Murakami (Darwin) and Sandra Seiko Murakami (Perth). Photo by Mayu Kanamori

(L to R) Melissa Yoko Murakami (Perth), Julie Murakami (Darwin), Reiko Ruruka Minami Murakami (Japan) , Calvin Murakami (Darwin) and Sandra Seiko Murakami (Perth). Photo by Mayu Kanamori

For sometime now I have entertained an irrational thought that Yasukichi Murakami’s ghost was calling to me to fulfill his wishes, and on this day, at least part of my irrational belief  as to his wishes came to be. Not only was his grave visited by 6 of his family members, but nearly 200 people gathered to commemorate the civilian internees who died in internment camps across Australia during World War II .

The commemoration was part of a series of events held in Cowra, NSW including a symposium, Civilian Internment in Australia during WWII: history, memories and community heritage, its related arts program, the Cowra Canowindra Civilian Internment Arts Program and an unveiling of an interpretive board with information about Japanese civilian internment in Australia during WWII at the entrance of the cemetery. This is the first time Japanese civilian internees and their families were publicly acknowledged in Australia.

(Back row L to R) Reiko (Ruruka) Minami Murakami, Calvin Murakami, Mayu Kanamori (Front row - L to R) Jacqueline Murakami and Julie Murakami. Photo by Mutsumi Tsuda

(Back row L to R) Reiko (Ruruka) Minami Murakami, Calvin Murakami, Mayu Kanamori (Front row – L to R) Jacqueline Murakami and Julie Murakami. Photo by Mutsumi Tsuda

Couple of years earlier, when I first visited Murakami’s grave with Dr Lorna Kaino, we met with Dr Keiko Tamura, a historian from the Australian National University there. By Murakami’s grave, the three of us discussed how the Japanese War Cemetery in Cowra needed an interpretive board to explain to visitors that many of the people buried there were civilians like Murakami. In fact many visitors to Cowra also visit the former Cowra Prisoner of War (POW) camp site, and have heard about the Cowra Breakout, and assuming all buried at the this cemetery were Japanese POWs who died during this mass breakout. The visitors walk into the cemetery, and after seeing the graves, wonder why there are babies and children buried there.

Former civilian internee Evelyn Suzuki and Cowra Mayor Bill West unveils the civilian internment interpretive board at Cowra Japanese War Cemetery. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Former civilian internee Evelyn Suzuki and Cowra Mayor Bill West unveils the civilian internment interpretive board at Cowra Japanese War Cemetery. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

The three of us agreed there and then to contact our mutual friend Dr Yuriko Nagata from Queensland University (UQ), the author of Unwanted Aliens: Japanese Internment in Australia During WWII (1996, UQ Press), the definitive book on this subject with the view to  bring about change. The four of us formed a group  Nikkei Australia, and with Dr Nagata as our team leader, for the next two years, worked together with the Cowra Breakout Association and other dedicated organisations and peoples to realise  these series of events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps it was  Yasukichi Murakami’s ghost that inspired us to work to facilitate this social change. After all, in his lifetime, Murakami was not only a photographer and artist, but also a leader in the Japanese communities in places  he once lived: Broome, Darwin and in Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria. Not only would he want his descendants to visit his grave – his wife and his deceased children are buried in Darwin – but would like his fellow community members who are buried in this cemetery to be remembered by their descendants, and for all of us to recognise and acknowledge their history.

Having said that, one of the most outstanding aspects of Murakami’s life was that he was not only part of the Japanese community. Historians such as Dr Lorna Kaino and Kate Lance, author of Redbill  tells us that Murakami and his friend and business partner Captain A.C. Gregory have acted as mediators during series of race riots in Broome (1907. 1914 and 1920), and their lifelong friendship “calmly flout(ed) every racial barrier of Broome society.” (Lance). And as such, our symposium consisted of  internment stories from those of Japanese, Italian, German and New Caledonian backgrounds as well as of regional museum curators from Tatura, Hay and Loveday, where the internment camps once were, academic researchers, artists and creative writers who’s work deal with WWII civilian internment in Australia.

Aoyama Temple, Sydney based Buddhist monks with Murakami family chanting sutra by Yasukichi Murakami's grave. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Seianji Temple, Sydney based Buddhist monks with Murakami family chanting sutra by Yasukichi Murakami’s grave. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

And  9 March was about  remembering those civilians who are buried in Cowra, regardless of their backgrounds. The ceremony began with a ceremony for Australians who died during WWII at the Australian section of Cowra’s War Cemetery, next for those buried in the Japanese section, which not only includes Japanese and Nikkei civilians, but Chinese, Indonesian and New Caledonian peoples who were interned with the Japanese. We then moved to the Cowra General Cemetery to commemorate the Javanese Indonesian political prisoners who were interned and died in Cowra.

Artists Weizen Ho and Ria Soemardjo leading the attendees through the Cowra General Cemetery from the Indonesian graves to the Japanese War Cemetery as part of a Ceremonial Performance. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Artists Weizen Ho and Ria Soemardjo leading the attendees through the Cowra General Cemetery from the Indonesian graves to the Japanese War Cemetery as part of a Ceremonial Performance. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Ria Soemardjo, an Indonesian Australian performer sang by the Indonesian graves, then Weizen Ho, a Chinese Malaysian Australian performer  lead the attendees  back to the Japanese section, where local youth artists Bianca Reggio and Lauren Townsend and Shigeki Sano, a Japanese  Shinto musician residing in Cowra, and Alan Schacher, an Australian performer of Jewish background performed in ceremony along with a group of Sydney based Buddhist monks from Seizanji-ji

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Such were the events in Cowra.

Such were the wishes of Yasukichi Murakami – I believe.

-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

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