Blackened sketches of contorted bodies fill a grand Georgian mansion house in central London, as the Hiroshima drawings make a short visit to this country.

The drawings are part of a large collection of work by two Japanese artists, Iri Maruki and Toshiko Akamatsu who arrived in Hiroshima just days after the Atomic Bomb was detonated over the city, and they spent the next 30-years trying to put the horror onto paper.

They created a series of large works, known as the Hiroshima Panels, which were hugely controversial when they were first shown in the UK in 1955.

The exhibition is in two rooms. One with some of the drawings by the artists of people they encountered in the aftermath of the bombing, but possibly more interesting is the second room that tells the story of the Hiroshima Panels being displayed in the UK in the 1950s.

This was still a time of government censorship and anything that touched on the atomic bomb or the war was controlled lest it fuels anti-nuclear sentiment. The Home Secretary of the time, Gwilym Lloyd George even went so far as to revoke the visa of the Danish schoolteacher, Martin Thomhav, who had brought the panels to London for one exhibition, although the artists then worked to ensure the show went on. The panels were also shown in Coventry, which was chosen to recognise its own devastation during the war.

There are a lot of newspaper clippings in the display showing how the press was reporting, mostly sympathetically, about the arrival of these horrific works of art in the UK.

The exhibition is a mix of the sombre portraits of the victims of the bomb in Japan, but also a rich exploration of how the British government tried to censor what people could learn about that dreadful attack.

With nuclear-armed autocratic governments in the Asian subcontinent, Europe and Asia, it’s an unfortunately very timely exhibition.

The exhibition is at the Daiwa Foundation Japan House, which can be found at 13/14 Cornwall Terrace (Outer Circle), which is inside Regent’s Park not far from Baker Street tube station.

It’s open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm until 19th September.

Entry is free, and just ring the bell of the otherwise anonymous-looking building to be let in and the exhibition is on the first floor.


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