In His Own Words: NYC Artist Naoto Nakagawa’s Thousand Portraits of Japan Disaster Survivors

“When the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck northern Japan, I felt powerless to do something substantial to help my homeland. Family circumstances took me to Japan a few months later, and I resolved to visit the devastated area to see it with my own eyes. While I was there I decided to draw portraits of people who are living in shelters, to give them some token that a visitor from far away in America cares about their plight.

“I remembered that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, school children in Japan sent 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of healing and good fortune, to my children’s school. I decided to make 1,000 Portraits to give to people in northern Japan – a symbolic way to demonstrate that others care for them and that we support each other in a crisis.

“During five subsequent trips to Japan, I was assisted by a humanitarian aid group, which arranged for me to visit schools and shelters. The response was overwhelming; when I focused on my subjects, they started to talk, or sometimes to cry. One woman told me that she had lost all her family photos in the tsunami, and was so grateful to have my portrait of her.”

Nakagawa is shown (above) with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly after sitting for a portrait last year. Ironically, Commissioner Kelly briefly lived in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the 3-11 earthquake and tsunami.

Nakagawa’s “1000 Portraits of Hope” will be on display from June 18 through Aug. 8 as part of “Voices From Japan: Despair and Hope From Disaster” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112 Street. For more information, visit stjohndivine.org

1 Comment

  1. David Horvath
    03 June 12, 8:11pm

    Mr. Nakagawa was my foundation art teacher at Parsons back in 1996.
    Great painter with wise words for us.

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