Second-generation A-bomb survivor creates art for peace

by Seiji Shitakubo, Staff Writer

Artist Zero Higashida, 50, creates works that appeal for peace, using paper recycled from folded paper cranes first offered to monuments in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Mr. Higashida, whose real name is Yokuryu Ueda, is a second-generation A-bomb survivor and artist based in the city of Higashi-Hiroshima.

Mr. Higashida’s mother experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In 2001, the artist himself witnessed the terrorist attacks in central New York City, where he keeps a studio. As a result, “peace” and “life” have long been themes in his creative work.

Mr. Higashida has always had a special feeling for paper cranes. The Children’s Peace Monument, which stands in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, is a memorial inspired by Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who believed she could overcome her leukemia, a lingering result of the atomic bomb’s radiation, by folding 1,000 paper cranes. Though he never had the opportunity to meet her in person, Mr. Higashida went to the same junior high school as Sadako, Noboricho Junior High School. Because of this, he is eager to express his wish for peace through his work as an artist.

Paper recycled from paper cranes has been supplied to him by a local NGO, Orizuru Hiroshima, and Mr. Higashida has already created several pieces incorporating using this paper.

In a one-man exhibition running November 20~25, entitled “Approach to Peace,” at Saijo Hakuwa Hotel near Hiroshima University in Higashi-Hiroshima, the artist is displaying eight paintings and 11 metal works, the genre for which he is internationally acclaimed.

One of the pieces is an abstract painting that was inspired by a meeting with Edward Albee, an American playwright and three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Higashida had the opportunity to interview Mr. Albee in 2007 and was impressed by Mr. Albee’s words on peace.

“Peace is always a possibility, if enough people care, if enough people want it. Otherwise, the planet will die. It’s that simple,” Mr. Albee said.

Mr. Higashida is now preparing for an exhibition slated to be held in Yokohama next March. Pieces for this exhibition will include paintings made on paper recycled from paper cranes and works produced by pouring liquified paper into metal molds.

An artist influenced by both the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Higashida spoke of his mission as an artist, saying, “I hope by recycling these paper cranes in my work I’m able to circulate the wishes for peace from around the world that the cranes represent.”

(Originally published on November 21, 2008)

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