Professor publishes new book examining artist’s anti-war messages

Sara LaJeunesse
April 15, 2020

A little coconut boy growing on a tree eagerly awaits an opportunity to serve the Japanese military service. One day, he falls into the ocean and is scooped up by sailors on a navy ship. No longer a boy, but rather an ordinary coconut, the sailors whack the coconut in half and use it to scrub the deck.

Little boy with a coconut on his head hanging from tree

Akamatsu Toshiko was an artist who lived from 1912-2000. 

IMAGE: Courtesy: Charlotte Eubanks, art by Akamatsu Toshiko

“This children’s story with its accompanying illustrations is not a blatant message that the Japanese military will strip you of your humanity and grind you up and spit you out, but it does hint at the perils of serving in the Asia and Pacific War,” said Charlotte Eubanks, head of the Department of Comparative Literature, Japanese and Asian Studies, Penn State.

Sailors clean deck with coconut

Akamatsu Toshiko was a major cultural producer and was nominated, along with her husband, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

IMAGE: Courtesy: Charlotte Eubanks, art by Akamatsu Toshiko

Eubanks is the author of a new book, titled “The Art of Persistence: Akamatsu Toshiko and the Visual Cultures of Transwar Japan,” which was published by the University of Hawaii Press on Dec. 31, 2019. The book details the life of Akamatsu Toshiko (1912-2000), who wrote and illustrated the coconut boy story, and who often straddled the line between resistance and complicity in her newspaper and children’s illustrations.

“If you actively protested World War II in Japan you could have been jailed or killed,” said Eubanks. “Toshiko spoke up where she could, while still preserving her health and wellbeing.”

This middle space between resistance and complicity, which Eubanks refers to as persistence, is the overarching theme that she explores in her book.

“Like resilience, persistence signals a commitment to not disappearing or becoming irrelevant, but like complicity, it involves unseemly compromises with people in power,” she said “Persistence is somewhere in that messy, muddled, gray area.”

The Art of Persistence book cover

Charlotte Eubanks, head of the Department of Comparative Literature, Japanese and Asian Studies, is the author of a new book about an artist walking the line between resistance and complicity during the Asia and Pacific War.

IMAGE: Courtesy: Charlotte Eubanks, Penn State

Beyond the details of Akamatsu’s life, the book also addresses major events in modern Japanese history, including colonization and empire, war, the nuclear bombings and the transwar proletarian movement.

Akamatsu was a major cultural producer throughout all of these periods. In 1948, with her husband, Maruki Iri, she created and exhibited the “Nuclear Series,” a set of highly influential and powerful artwork depicting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. The couple spent much of the rest of their lives traveling the world to protest war and nuclear proliferation. They were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

“Akamatsu wasn’t a martyr for her cause, but she was still able to do things that made her proud,” said Eubanks. “Her persistence enabled her to have an impact over the course of several decades. I respect her for that.”

 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 01, 2020