Column: The Faces of Hiroshima

On display at a conference hall in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park are 31 portraits of A-bomb survivors. Created by students who major in oil painting at Hiroshima City University, the faces depict both a sense of calm and the strength with which these survivors have endured their hardships. Their gazing eyes leave a striking impression.

Before the students painted the portraits, they listened to the survivors’ experiences. One female student, a second-year postgraduate, heard an 87-year-old woman’s story many times. The survivor told the student that she entered the hypocenter area to search for her husband, who was injured in the blast. The carefully-rendered portrait conveys “the face of Hiroshima.”

The same can be said about the faces of survivors and family members of the victims who attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony, including the face of an elderly person who gazed down throughout the service. At 8:15 a.m., they all put their hands together in prayer. Perhaps they were imagining the faces of loved ones whose lives were stolen away by the atomic bombing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed a solemn look on his face as Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called nuclear weapons “an absolute evil” in his Peace Declaration and called on the Japanese government to strengthen its cooperation with countries which support the elimination of nuclear arms. How did Mr. Abe receive the mayor’s message?

A person’s face supposedly conveys the sort of life the individual has had. The effort to paint portraits of the survivors was first begun at the university ten years ago. But the survivors are now aging, and some who sat for portraits in previous years have passed away. I hope this project will continue and help preserve the faces of Hiroshima on canvas and in our memory.

(Originally published on August 7, 2013)