Art Exhibition “Manga and War” Comes to Ramapo

An international art exhibition came to Ramapo on Wednesday night as the Berrie Center held an opening reception featuring a discussion with the scholar behind the exhibit, Midori Yoshimoto, the gallery director at New Jersey City University. Titled “Manga and War,” the exhibition in the Pascal Gallery is a scaled-down version of a 2015 display curated by the Kyoto International Manga Museum in Japan. The Ramapo College debut of “Manga and War” represents the first time the exhibit has been presented outside of its home country.

Yoshimoto delivered her short speech an hour after the gallery officially opened, entering the room at 6 p.m. Sydney O. Jenkins, the College’s art gallery director, introduced her as “a brilliant scholar and curator” solely responsible for the arrival of “Manga and War” at Ramapo.

Yoshimoto explained the original exhibit was created in recognition of the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end. “It was a very big deal in Japan, and it was here as well, but maybe more so in Japan,” Yoshimoto said in reference to the anniversary, “Japan had this long, dragging feeling of defeat from the war, and recovering from the war.”

Manga – Japan’s equivalent of western comic book storytelling – has been the medium of choice for a number of artists basing their work on World War II in the years following the conflict. “Manga and War” features 24 works written during this “post-war” era of Japan’s history, a period Yoshimoto said ended in 2011 with the earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“It’s divided into six sections,” Yoshimoto said, gesturing to the partitioned gallery, which began with a display labeled “Atom Bomb.” It featured enlarged panels from “Hadashino Gen,” an autobiographical manga chronicling author Keiji Nakazawa’s survival of the 1945 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by the U.S. “It’s probably the most widely-known English translation of a war manga,” Yoshimoto said.

Other sections included “Special Attacks,” which compared two manga based on the suicide tactics employed by the Japanese air force during the war. The first work, aimed at young men, glorified kamikaze pilots – while the latter, written for young women, decried the practice. Another portion of the exhibit was dedicated to the Battle of Okinawa, during which many Japanese women took their own lives. Yoshimoto explained death, while horrifying, was considered to be a preferred alternative to capture by American troops. Original drawings from “Cocoon,” a manga based on the Okinawa battle, were on display: one image depicted a group of young women hugging a bomb in an attempt at group suicide.

Emily Dzoback, a senior, attended the gallery’s opening with junior Paul Brennan. Both enjoyed the exhibition, pausing to view the original art mounted on the walls.

“I like to come to all the gallery openings,” Dzoback said, “I like to see the curator’s process – why they selected what they did. Of course, you can visit the exhibitions on other days, but you miss out.”

Junior Gabriella Fiorino also attended the reception. “As a kid, I used to read manga a lot,” Fiorino said. The business major and artist was attracted by the hand-colored panels used in the creation of “Cocoon,” which she described as “grabbing.”

“I love the placement of color,” she said, “and the imagery, of a young woman covered in blood, is fascinating – it caught my eye from across the room.”

The exhibition will continue through April 21. Gallery hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and Wednesday at 1 to 7 p.m.