Underground Connections

 In 1984 Tomiyama completed a new series of lithographs about the Koreans who had been forced to work in Japan’s mines, construction sites, and factories during the war, called Coerced and Forlorn, which also served as the basis for a film, Pop Out Balsam Seeds!  This was her first series to focus on World War II-era events, bringing together her longstanding interest in depicting miners, her decade of work with the South Korean democracy movement, and her growing sense of dismay at her own youthful acceptance of Japan’s wartime priorities.


She was then in her sixties.  By the 1980s, all Tomiyama’s work also incorporated commentary on the ways that gender affected social experience and so the series depicted here included images of the wives and mothers of the Korean coerced laborers as well as the workers themselves.  This theme emerges most powerfully in the title of an image of a distraught woman, called “For a Mother Whose Child Was Taken Away and Killed.”

She returned to the subject of coal mines once again in 2000 in a group exhibit, Fox and Coal Mines, which built on this earlier work and also integrated the topic of miners’ worlds with the mythological and symbolic framework she had developed over the previous quarter-century in relation to other themes.

The collages she created for this exhibit included images of the ammonite fossils found within the coal deposits, introducing a reminder of the ecological implications of coal use as well as the antiquity of the coal itself.

Tomiyama also recycled some of her own images for this exhibit, as she has done on other occasions. Especially in recent years, Tomiyama has recombined and reused her work in different contexts, meaning that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate the various series. For example, she added a shaman to a lithograph of grieving Korean women originally created for the 1975 show, producing a collage that tied the wartime devastation of Korean society to the heedlessness and environmental destructiveness of Japan’s postwar high-speed economic growth.


See “Working on and off the Margins” by Hagiwara Hiroko in Laura Hein and Rebecca Jennison, eds., Imagination Without Borders: Feminist Artist Tomiyama Taeko and Social Responsibility, Ann Arbor, Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, forthcoming 2010.