Imagination without Borders

Feminist Artist Tomiyama Taeko and Social Responsibility

Edited by Laura Hein and Rebecca Jennison

Monograph No. 69, 2010, viii + 164 pp., ISBN 978-1-929280-63-6 (paper), $24.00; ISBN 978-1-929280-62-9 (cloth), $60.00. 26 illustrations.

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  • Tomiyama Taeko, a Japanese visual artist born in 1921, is changing the way World War II is remembered in Japan, Asia, and the world. Her work deals with complicated moral and emotional issues of empire and war responsibility that cannot be summed up in simple slogans, which makes it compelling for more than just its considerable beauty.

    Since Japan was imperialist but not Western, attention to her work also disaggregates issues that are usually bundled together, creating opportunities for both comparative and transnational analysis. Her work, discussed here and at the accompanying website, also helps us identify the strategies that individuals use to gain critical distance from their own societies and governments and to find effective ways of expressing dissent.

    Japanese today are still grappling with the effects of World War II, and, largely because of the inconsistent and ambivalent actions of the government, they are widely seen as resistant to accepting responsibility for their nation’s violent actions against others during the decades of colonialism and war. Yet some individuals, such as Tomiyama, have produced nuanced and reflective commentaries on those experiences, and on the difficulty of disentangling herself from the priorities of the nation despite her lifelong political dissent. Tomiyama’s sophisticated visual commentary on Japan’s history—and on the global history in which Asia is embedded—provides a compelling guide through the difficult terrain of modern historical remembrance, in a distinctively Japanese voice.

  • Laura Hein is Professor of Japanese History at Northwestern University. This is her fifth edited book on the politics of war remembrance.

    Rebecca Jennison is Professor of Literature and Gender Studies at Kyoto Seika University. She has been assisting Tomiyama Taeko as a translator since 1990, and has published several articles and translations on the artist’s work.

  • "Imagination without Borders is a terrific introduction not merely to a remarkable artist, but also to the contested ground of memory, politics, and creative expression in postwar and contemporary Japan. Tomiyama Taeko's uncompromising decades-long struggle to transcend parochial borders has taken her—and now takes us—to worlds where history, culture, and imagination are fused in stunning and provocative ways."
    —John W. Dower, Professor Emeritus of Japanese History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

    "The conjoining of politics and art has never found easy acceptance, whether the accent falls on politics or on art. This collection of essays shows how, rather than abstract condemnation or affirmation, the relationship needs painstaking exploration with respect to audience, moment, style, and intent. In introducing Tomiyama Taeko, Imagination without Borders thus honors the dimensions of her lifelong, inseparable commitment to art and politics."
    —Norma Field, University of Chicago

  • "This collection illuminates multifaceted aspects of Tomiyama's art through four essays by Japanese and U.S. scholars of history, literature, cultural studies, and gender studies, as well as an essay by an Italian composer living in Japan. It also features a dialogue between Tomiyama and U.S. artist Eleanor Rubin in order to add the voices of artists themselves. This cross-disciplinary approach to exploring the work of one artist is refreshing and illuminating."
    —Midori Yoshimoto in College Art Association Reviews
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