It’s not just an art exhibition.
It’s a call to arms — or “a call to art,” as gallery administrator Taras Matla put it. It’s meant to send a message.
“Perhaps a better way of looking at it is a call to arts using the arts as a vehicle to advocate for peaceful dialogue in the world coexistence,” Matla said. “That’s something that UMD prides itself on. That’s something that students are passionate about.”
The exhibition, titled “Questioning the Bomb: History and Non-Proliferation,” is a collection of graphic artwork designed by artists to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eighty artists participated in the show, including students of this university, alumni and even some international artists.
All of the participants were residents of P5+1 countries, with the exception of four Iranian designers.
James Thorpe, an associate professor of this university’s art department, took a sabbatical to begin working on the project with some of his top students last fall, and worked through the spring term into the summer.
“It’s to commemorate the bombings but also to make people aware of the problems of nuclear proliferation, especially right now with the [Iran Nuclear] treaty that’s going down,” Thorpe said.
“What we’re trying to do with this is get students aware of how dangerous these weapons are,” he said.
For some students, the exhibit was a tangible manifestation of the magnitude of the United States’ attack on Japan 70 years ago. Besides posters, there were also some three-dimensional pieces, including an atomic bomb made of wire, which was built to scale. This was the piece that stood out the most to Ty Cuonharris, a freshman aerospace engineering major.
“It shows an artistic side to a historical event. I think it’s like the best way that you can portray some things,” Cuonharris said. “Before now, I just saw Hiroshima as like an idea but now…there’s an image [to it].”
Thorpe wanted to draw attention to a sort of international acceptance of nuclear bombs.
“We’ve gotten kind of numb and we sort of accept the existence of these weapons which is a dangerous proposition,” he said.
The overlapping of the opening of “Questioning the Bomb” with the advancement of the Iran Nuclear Deal was a total coincidence, but made the exhibit even more relevant.
“You couldn’t have asked for better timing,” Matla said.
IJ Wittenberg, a freshman food science major, was particularly drawn to a piece called “The Last Day of Innocence,” which depicts a small Japanese girl staring up at an airplane.
“I think part of the zeitgeist of when [the bombing] happened was that it was so far away that we didn’t have to worry about it in the States, but we caused it,” Wittenberg said. The States caused the atomic bomb and we shouldn’t just forget what we’ve done,” he said.
Kelsey Marotta, a 2014 graduate of this university, and one of the artists, doesn’t believe that people in 1945 truly understood the results of U.S.’s actions. Her design features the word “BOOM” in capital letters, on a largely plain orange background.
“I think of this word ‘boom’ as a word that little kids use, something that they just sort of throw around,” Marotta said.
“It doesn’t have a lot of meaning, and yet when you apply it to something like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s very powerful and so … in their decision to [bomb those cities], it was sort of child’s play, yet it had all these rippling effects,” she said.
Marotta was one of Thorpe’s students and he asked her to design a piece for this exhibition. She said she had done several projects like this while she was in school. She also said her submission to “Questioning the Bomb” was a nice change of pace from the professional world.
The exhibit is meant to be educational. Thorpe hopes students learn about the history and evolution of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan as well as why the events happened the way they did.
“I can appreciate the value now, but some of these [posters] I look at and I realize if I were much younger, I would be scarred. These are so powerful,” Wittenberg said.
“I just hope that people spread the word about the show and what we’re trying to do as far as thinking about stopping the proliferation of these weapons,” Thorpe said.
Featured Photo Credit: Dane Winkler, is a third-year grad student in the art department. (Ryan Eskalis/Bloc Reporter)
Naomi Grant is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.