The Nanaimo Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibition looks at the artistic fallout from the atomic bomb.
From January 29 to March 27, Bombhead, a traveling nuclear-themed exhibit curated by the Vancouver Art Gallery, is coming to the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Curator and art historian John O’Brian will give a talk at the gallery on Saturday, January 29, focusing on artists from Western Canada.
“One of the reasons we brought [Bombhead] it’s because Nanaimo was a site of protest against nuclear submarines in Nanoose Bay, so it’s relevant to this city and its history, Nanaimo being a nuclear free zone,” said NAG curator Jesse Birch . “And also the issues around nuclear energy and its uses and the nuclear arms race are still relevant even though it’s no longer the Cold War.”
The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, films and everyday objects like postcards, brochures and album covers from 1945 to the present day. O’Brian said atomic art is a very broad field that he has studied for 20 years.
“When I first became interested was in the early 2000s, it was out of frustration to realize that while artists were paying attention [and] photographers paid attention, various forms of leadership as well as the public no longer paid attention to the [nuclear] threat,” he said.
O’Brian said artists have been concerned and interested in the atomic bomb from the time it was used in World War II. He said artistic depictions of nuclear weapons at the time were both “celebratory and dreadful”.
“At the very beginning, there was this ambiguity about it,” O’Brian said. “There’s been a lot less ambiguity about it since, especially after thermonuclear weapons were developed and it was understood that the whole world could be wiped out.”
Among the works in the exhibition are photographs from Greenpeace’s first trip to protest nuclear testing in Alaska in 1971 and a ‘very strange’ film exploring the evacuated exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi power station, site of disaster in 2011. There are also abstract paintings that suggest the mushroom cloud, which O’Brian calls “the most iconic image of the 20th century.”
“I was interested in what art and other kinds of visual material can tell us about the atomic world that can be seen or can’t be seen,” O’Brian said. “Because there is a large part of the atomic world which is invisible. Radiation is invisible, so how do you represent radiation? »
O’Brian said one of his goals with the exhibit was to remind viewers that the dangers of nuclear weapons did not end with the Cold War and to make the threat of the bomb visible again.
“Fukushima and Chernobyl and Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Port Hope, Ontario, which was one of the first uranium refineries in the world and the most contaminated city in Canada…that’s in the past but it’s also present,” O’ said Brian. “It’s with us. We are still in an atomic world.
WHAT’S THIS… Bombhead is on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., from January 29 to March 27. Curator’s talk on January 29 at 3 p.m.