The Art of Persistence: Akamatsu Toshiko and the Visual Cultures of Transwar Japan
University of Hawai'i Press
The Art of Persistence examines the relations between art and politics in transwar Japan, exploring these via a microhistory of the artist, memoirist, and activist Akamatsu Toshiko (also known as Maruki Toshi, 1912–2000). Scaling up from the details of Akamatsu’s lived experience, the book addresses major events in modern Japanese history, including colonization and empire, war, the nuclear bombings, and the transwar proletarian movement. More broadly, it outlines an ethical position known as persistence, which occupies the grey area between complicity and resistance: Like resilience, persistence signals a commitment to not disappearing—a fierce act of taking up space but often from a position of privilege, among the classes and people in power. Akamatsu grew up in a settler-colonial family in rural Hokkaido before attending arts college in Tokyo and becoming one of the first women to receive formal training as an oil painter in Japan. She later worked as a governess in the home of a Moscow diplomat and traveled to the Japanese Mandate in Micronesia before returning home to write and illustrate children’s books set in the Pacific. She married the surrealist poet and painter Maruki Iri (1901–1995), and together in 1948—and in defiance of Occupation censorship—they began creating and exhibiting the Nuclear Series, some of the most influential and powerful artwork depicting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. For the next forty or more years, the couple toured the world to protest war and nuclear proliferation and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.