Imagination without Borders

Feminist Artist Tomiyama Taeko and Social Responsibility

Subjects: Asian Studies, Japan
Hardcover : 9781929280629, 172 pages, 6 x 9, January 2010
Open Access : 9780472901623, 172 pages, 6 x 9, June 2020
Paperback : 9781929280636, 172 pages, 6 x 9, January 2010

Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program
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Opens up the transformational work of a contemporary feminist artist on the difficult terrain of Japanese and global history


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. 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, 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, College Art Association Reviews

Expansion of the Imagination Without Borders website This book was designed to be read together with a 2010 website, created by the Academic Technologies unit of the Northwestern University Library, also titled Imagination Without Borders.  The website, however, now has new material created since 2010 as well as a broader multi-media presentation of earlier collaborative artistic work.   Both the book and the website introduce the work of Japanese visual artist TOMIYAMA Taeko and, to a lesser extent, the paintings and prints of MARUKI Toshi & MARUKI Iri and Eleanor RUBIN.  All four think of themselves as political artists and see their work as a protest against social injustice and the suffering such injustice causes.  All four were deeply affected by World War II and their art reflects their shared belief that war is a disaster for everyone.   The individual web pages were keyed to specific chapters of that book.  While both book and website stand alone, the website can offer many more images and demonstrate Tomiyama’s vibrant use of color far more effectively than is possible in all but the most expensive art books.  Meanwhile the book provides more analysis and detailed information than offered by the website.  Since Tomiyama is also committed to making her images accessible to a wide audience, for example by innovative use of slides and DVDs, incorporating the World Wide Web seemed very much in the same spirit.  Both Tomiyama and Rubin have continued to produce new art since 2010 when we created this website.  They were each moved to do so as a response to the triple disaster of the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.  While most of this website remains as it was in 2010, we have expanded it to introduce some of this new work by both artists.  In particular we have added selections from Tomiyama’s powerful response to the 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster, Revelation from the Sea, as well as the DVD she produced together with music composer TAKAHASHI Yuji.  Although Tomiyama is in her mid-nineties, she continues to produce beautiful original images.