1. Internship at Grameen Bank by seminar alumnus Ms. Mari Asano
An exhibition on Rwandan modern art was held from June 29th to July 4th. It was a small art exhibition held by Mari Asano (March 2011 Graduate from the Faculty of Law), Chuo alumnus who studied in my seminar.
Ever since her time at Chuo University, Mari Asano possessed outstanding ability to take action.
The Faculty of Law contains a course named NPO/NGO Internship. The course consists mainly of a 2-week internship experience during summer vacation. However, enrollees are required to handle all aspects of the internship including searching for an accepting NPO/NGO and negotiating an internship schedule. The program severely tests students’ independence and ability to take action.
Mari enrolled in this course in 2008, her 2nd year at university. She experienced an internship at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize for its issuing of microcredit to poor people. Mari has written a seven-part series for the internet newspaper JANJAN which describes her experience during the internship. I recommend reading the articles for anyone who is interested.
2. Encounter with a young Rwandan male painter
The year after the internship, Mari left Japan to conduct international contribution activities in Rwanda, Africa. A civil war occurred in Rwanda in 1994 and it is said that 500 thousand to 1 million people were massacred during a hundred-day period. Rwanda has a population of about 5 million people, which means that anywhere from 10% to 20% of the entire population was slaughtered. Survivors attest to widespread, hideous acts of violence which are terrifying to even describe.
In Rwanda, Mari met a budding young painter named Richard “Safari” Karekezi. Richard preferred to use teacups for the subject of his paintings, painting bold, thick strokes to portray the fragrant steam rising from the cup. Mari was touched upon seeing the paintings and felt that Richard’s art sought to console the wounds of ethnic groups in Rwanda.
3. Inviting painters from Rwanda
Mari felt that she must do something to help. She wanted to use paintings to encourage exchange for Japan and Rwanda for the purpose of peace. Mari decided to introduce Richard’s paintings to Japan and to invite Richard to Japan. As a first step towards this goal, she purchased 20 of Richard’s paintings. She wanted to hold an exhibit in Japan for these paintings and invite Richard to attend.
In 2010, Mari returned to Japan with Richard’s paintings. She visited galleries and explored the possibility of an exhibition. However, art experts did not respond favorably. One female gallery owner even shrugged off Mari by stating that “the idea of viewing paintings for peace is ridiculous.” However, officials engaged in international exchange responded positively. The Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange provided her with a variety of information. As a result, Mari was able to hold an exhibition last spring at the Kanazawa City International Exchange Salon. She was also able to invite Richard to the exhibition. During his stay in Japan, Richard held a painting workshop for children.
4. Renting venue near Chuo University and holding an art exhibition
In May of this year, I invited Mari to discuss her activities at my introductory seminar (seminar for 1st-year students). Her visit prompted cooperation with students in the Hirooka Seminar in order to hold an art exhibition near our university. This exhibition was the exhibition of modern Rwanda art mentioned in the introduction of this article.
The exhibition was held at Community Space CUORE, located on the 4th floor of the VIA Nagaike Building (1st and 2nd floors hold a Sanwa Supermarket) in front of Keio-Horinouchi Station. Community Space CUORE is located close to the train station and is kind of a ‘secret’ spot that offers various types of multiuse classrooms, rental rooms and rental galleries. Twenty of Richard’s paintings were displayed at CUORE.
Students arranged for transport, unpacking and fixing of paintings, as well as the event reception. Other Hirooka Seminar alumni who are friends of Mari also came from far away to help out.
The exhibition attracted about 200 people and all of the prepared postcards were sold out.
Many of the visitors had learned of the exhibition through local magazines and newspapers. Everyone expressed surprise at an art exhibition being held in the neighborhood. Of course, many people were also interested in the rare opportunity to view Rwandan art.
Seminar student Ai Nagai conducted a survey of visitors to the exhibition. According to Ai, many visitors expressed opinions like the following: “My image of African paintings was as vivid, ethnic art. However, the actual paintings were much different than what I had expected.” Other opinions included “the paintings somehow resemble scenes of ancient Japan” and “the use of color is similar to Okinawan art.”
5. Brought to tears by the idea of peace
“I also viewed the paintings featured in the exhibition,” said Ai. “The work entitled dancing lady had the greatest impression on me. This painting shows that people don’t dance only when they are having fun or are happy. It has the message that people are sometimes driven to dance out of sadness. Personally, I had learned dancing since I was a child. Until recently, dancing was a way for me to relieve the stresses of everyday life. In that respect, I felt an empathy with the painting.”
So, how are conditions in Rwanda today? According to Mari, infrastructure is currently being constructed in Rwanda and towns feature beautiful scenery with rich greenery.
“I spoke with one person who visited our exhibition out of curiosity towards the type of works painted by young Rwandans,” reflected Mari.
“The person had come expecting to see African art using bold colors, but was very impressed by the subtle and gentle use of color.
One person even cried upon feeling the desire for peace that is contained in each painting.
I was very happy that visitors could overcome language barriers to feel the artist’s emotion through art.”
6. A once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for students studying law
The exhibition of modern Rwandan art was made possible through the cooperation of seminar students and seminar alumni. At the same time, it was an once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for students.
Students in the School of Law are not required to write a graduation thesis, nor are they required to produce a graduation work. They simply take examinations and acquire credits. This is the form of learning for students studying law. It could be described as passive. Unlike the graduation research of science students or the graduation products of art students, legal students are not expected to create some sort of result.
Seminar alumnus Mari Asano provided younger students with an outstanding opportunity for learning. Even more, speaking from my position as a faculty member, it was a wonderful experience for me personally.
Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Born in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1951. Poet and songwriter. Professor in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. Specializes in political science while also holding a broad interest in social phenomena of modern Japan. Concurrently served as head of the Saga Prefectural Women’s Center Avance for two years from April 2005. Has held public posts such as member of the Cabinet Office Gender Equality Committee. His many written works include Otoko Datte Kosodate (Men Can Raise the Kids; published by Iwanami Shinsho), Chichioya De Aru Koto Wa Kanashiku mo Omoshiroi (Being a Father is Sad Yet Interesting; published by Kodansha) and Kindai Nihon no Shinsho Fuukei (The Imagined Landscape of Present Day Japan; published by Bokutakusha).