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The Hinomaru Variations

Less than 24 hours after Japan was stricken by the earthquake and tsunami, the first responses from tech-savvy printmakers began to spread through the internet. Printmaking is something of an ideal format for disaster-relief fundraising by artists, as manufacturing costs are relatively low, production is quick, and distribution is simple. Still, the speed at which these were made available for purchase is remarkable- the virtual marketplace not only gives individual artists a wider audience, it provides the audience with a wider array of choice than was possible a decade ago. The motivation to buyers is compounded, especially for those that want to donate to relief efforts (when it most matters), support visual artists, and collect an emotional tribute in solidarity with the people of the stricken nation.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for these (largely non-Japanese) printmakers is how to best symbolize sympathy and support for a culture so adept at symbolic expression. The prints designed in the aftermath of the quake are simple and poignant; many (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) are based on the Hinomaru (the official flag), which, while still a controversial emblem for some, is the best-recognized international symbol of Japan. The similarities prove that the arts community’s reactions to calamities need not be deliberate and planned, and that even visual art can convey spontaneous pan-cultural unanimity. The Hinomaru variations are an excellent example of convergent design- though the traditions and backgrounds of the artists may vary, the symbol and the intention are the same. I expect that over the next decade, the variety of visual art about the Japanese earthquake to diverge and grow considerably as the immediacy of the pain subsides. Personal memorials, political messages, comments on energy policy, and other issues are likely to supersede ‘solidarity’ as the dominant motivator of artistic expression around this event, but for now, solidarity is the only one that matters.


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