Toshi Maruki

1912Hokkaido, Japon | 2000, Japon

Japanese painter.

Born in a rural village in Hokkaido in 1912, T. Akamatsu studied yoga painting in the teaching department of the Women’s School of Fine Arts (now the Joshibi University of Art and Design) and then worked as a substitute teacher at the Ichikawa Municipal Higher Elementary School in Chiba Prefecture. During this enthusiastic pursuit of education, she applied to exhibit at both the short-lived Monbushō Art Exhibition (which would ultimately become the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition) and the Nika Art Exhibition but was not selected to participate in either. Following this, she – by chance – had several unique international experiences in her late twenties.

T. Akamatsu’s first trip abroad commenced in the spring of 1937, when she spent a year in Moscow working as a private tutor to the children of diplomats. This coincided with Stalin’s Great Purge, but she was isolated from such horrors, and during this peaceful life, surrounded by clear rivers and white birch groves, she succeeded in producing one sketch a day. Upon her return to Japan in 1938, she held her first solo exhibition at Kinokuniya in Ginza, and in 1939 she was accepted to participate in the Nika Art Exhibition for the first time.
She departed for a second trip in January 1940, spending several months travelling alone across the Palau Islands of Micronesia, which under Japanese rule was collectively known as the South Seas Islands. This year marked the final peak of the “South Seas Boom” that took place in tandem with the economic prosperity that had accompanied Japan’s national policy of southern expansion. T. Akamatsu travelled these islands having made the acquaintance of Hisakatsu Hijikata (1900-1977), a sculptor and folklorist who was already living there. Taking inspiration from the nature of the tropics, the coral reef seas and the lifestyles of the islanders, she produced several oil paintings characterised by bold lines and colours. Returning home, T. Akamatsu met the Hiroshima-born artist Iri Maruki (1901-1995), and they married. Now under her married name, T. Maruki began a new life, but the Pacific War broke out soon after.

In August 1945, hearing the news that “a new kind of bomb had been dropped”, I. Maruki travelled to his hometown of Hiroshima, and T. Maruki joined him there several days later. There they were greeted with the sight of an unimaginable hell. They spent a month working on the relief effort and suffered from physical ailments for many years afterwards. Returning to Tokyo in September, the couple joined the Japanese Communist Party (from which they were expelled in 1964) and were involved in the reorganisation of the post-war art world; they also exhibited individual works during this time. T. Maruki displayed a wide range of talents, including illustration for picture books, newspapers and magazines; book cover design; and creative writing. In 1947, as the new constitution giving women the same rights as men came into effect, she created a staggering work titled Emancipation of Humanity (Kaihō sareyuku ningensei).

In 1948, in part due to T. Maruki’s worsening health, the couple moved to the Shōnan region south-west of Tokyo to enjoy a better climate. Now distanced from activities in the capital, they began to confront their memories of the atomic bomb and, from 1950, took up work on the Hiroshima Panels series. The couple, who had not themselves directly experienced the event, developed their concept on the basis of eyewitness accounts from family and friends, as well as photographs and written accounts. Production on the Hiroshima Panels series continued until the 1970s, and during the entire working period, elements of the series were exhibited not only throughout Japan but also overseas, functioning as a means of conveying the reality of the damage that had been done in place of the photographs and film clips that were barred from public release. Furthermore, the couple tirelessly continued to paint large-scale pictures capturing the various forms of violence inflicted on their fellows, creating works that addressed the Nanking Massacre, the horrors of Auschwitz, the Minamata disease scandal, and the Battle of Okinawa. At the same time, T. Maruki enriched the world of illustrated volumes, and, following her husband’s death in 1995, she spent the time prior to her own passing painting charming pictures of dolls and flowers.

Yukiko Yokoyama

Translated from from Japanese by Sara Sumpter.

A biography produced as part of the “Women Artists in Japan: 19th – 21st century” programme

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