Documenting the Fukushima aftermath

When British visual artist Lis Fields, (pictured above) participated in a study tour of Fukushima, in October 2016, she didn’t simply take photos. She documented stories, talked to evacuees, scientists and others, and built a presentation that goes beyond the visual experience. She called it “20 millisieverts per year.”

Fields’ visit to Japan was under the auspices of Green Cross Switzerland, the international environmental NGO founded by Mikhail Gorbachev who, ironically, was president of the Soviet Union at the time of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.

The ‘20 millisieverts per year’ exhibition title refers to the maximum dose of ionizing radiation originating from a nuclear power plant to which citizens of Fukushima can now be exposed in a year. In the rest of Japan and the rest of the world the maximum permitted non-occupational dose to a citizen is 1 millisievert per year, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. (Note: Japan’s 20msv yr standard is now under review as Japan has agreed to — and should sign off on this week at the UN — the UN recommended exposure level of 1 msv.)


Tomioka, Japan. ©Lis Fields

In addition to the photos, there is now a short film about the project. Below is the trailer.

Fields also produced ‘Red Kimono’, a photographic portrait series conceived in response to the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. The 30 participants were artists and activists to whom Fields applied geisha-style makeup before photographing them, each dressed in the same vintage red kimono.

“The work is intended as a gesture of solidarity with all those suffering as a result of this ongoing, multi-faceted catastrophe,” says the project’s website. “It is also an attempt to help to raise awareness, and to elicit questions, via the use of provocative, attention-grabbing imagery and a selection of memoirs and letters by evacuees from Fukushima.” A booklet containing those letters and memoirs is also available via the project.

(For captions, please hover over the the portraits above.)

For the 20 millisieverts exhibition, Fields writes: “This raising of the annual threshold to 20 millisieverts per year puts enormous pressure on many of those who evacuated, compulsorily as well as ‘voluntarily’, to return to live in areas which are still contaminated, as the financial support for them to live elsewhere was terminated in March 2017.

“Some of those who were compulsorily evacuated are relieved to return to their former homes, despite the concerns they may have about the increased risk to their health from living in areas with such high levels of contamination.


Koriyama play corner. ©Lis Fields

“But others are outraged by the loss of financial support, not wanting to accept the increased risk to their health, and the even greater risk to the health of their children, who are much more sensitive to the effects of ionising radiation. They feel betrayed by the government as well as by the many in the media and scientific and medical communities who downplay the risks and support the policy of raising the radiation exposure threshold to 20 millisieverts per year. Many people, in Japan and elsewhere, consider this to be a serious breach of human rights.”

To view the photos and learn more about the aftermath and legacy of the Fukushima disaster, visits the “20 millisiverts per year” website. And also see Red Kimono.




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