Category: Exhibitions

Trade, but Not with Japan

George Wilson opens the IU Art Museum exhibition of Japanese prints related to Commodore Perry's commanding arrival in 1853.

It is difficult to imagine how the townspeople of Edo felt when the black-hulled steam frigate USS Susquehanna arrived in their harbor in 1853.  Edo was the Japanese capital and one of the largest cities in the world at the time.  Contact with the outside world had been forbidden for 250 years.  The ship was five times larger than any ship the Japanese had known, and steam technology was completely new.  That show of force convinced the de facto national powers of the shogunate to accept a letter proposing a treaty.  When Perry returned seven months later with a quarter of the U.S. Navy—eight ships—he left with a treaty.  And so Japan was opened for trade with the West.

George Wilson

George Wison, professor emeritus of history and East Asian languages and cultures

But not quite.  The U.S. had sent Perry on this mission not to gain access to Japanese trade, but for two other reasons, George Wilson, Professor Emeritus of History and East Asian Languages and Cultures emphasized in a brief lecture at the IU Art Museum.   The U.S. was more concerned with protecting its trade in tea from China and in whale oil from the North Atlantic.  Perry’s treaty secured two open ports, one in the South that allowed ships bound for China to refuel, and one in the North, whose main function was to provide a way of repatriating American sailors whose whaling ships had floundered.  Perry’s treaty was the first unequal diplomatic treaty, Professor Wilson explained.  Japan did not get the same rights in the U.S. that they granted the U.S. in Japan.  It also opened a door for a U.S. consul in Japan.  Consul Townsend Harris arrived in 1856 and with persistent pressure won the first treaty securing trade between the two nations.

The impact of this nineteenth-century version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been disputed ever since.  Perry and Harris laid the groundwork for the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and ultimately for Japan to play a role as a world power.  At the time, the Japanese wrote of the “Black Ships of Evil Men.”   “Black ships” is still used by the Japanese to describe technological threats from the West.  Although Japanese law forbade depicting current events, Perry’s visits saw artists lined up at the waterfront preparing images for broadsides and street sales around the country.  Professor Wilson’s lecture marked the opening of an exhibition of several of those images which combine the delicate Japanese artistry of line and color with billowing black smoke and fearful military monsters.  With the help of these drawings, we can imagine how the townspeople of Edo felt—the terror and panic, and the fascination–that the arrival of the Western military produced.

The lecture is part of the College of Arts and Sciences Themester, Making War, Making Peace.   The exhibition is one of several special programs at the IU Art Museum.

USS Susquehanna steam frigate, one of the "Black Ships"

Who Represents Who to Whom?

African Studies began its anniversary celebration with an African photojournalism exhibit

            The African Studies Program turns 50 this year.  Courses in African studies began at IU in 1948.  A five-year Ford Foundation grant in 1961 gave Liberia scholar Gus Liebenow the support to coordinate and consolidate IU’s African offerings.  The program received its first federal funding in 1965 and has earned continuous federal support since that time.  That support has made IU a national and international resource for teaching African languages and culture. 

            Anniversary celebrations began with the opening of a gallery exhibition at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center of photographs taken by two of Africa’s most important photojournalists, Djibril Sy, from Senegal, and Jacob Otieno from East Africa.  They have photographed most of Africa’s major political crises since the 1980s.  Brutal images from coups and crackdowns kept their fellow Africans aware of the truth of what was happening around them.  “You are warriors,” Samuel Obeng, current director of African Studies, said.  “You are educators.  Not even a gun can turn you away from your task.”  War and violence weren’t the only subjects of these photojournalists’ lessons.  The exhibit included images of celebration when President Obama came to Africa, of healing ceremonies, and of things outsiders might not notice—like the series of photographs of salt harvesters.

            Life lived violently on the one hand.  Life lived locally on the other.  The exhibition shows us what Africans consider important to show each other.  The anniversary celebration continues with lectures, reminiscences by past and present directors of the program, concerts of Ghanaian drumming and Afro Hoosier popular music. You can read more here.

IU’s connection with Africa thrives with major new projects begun or on the cusp—developing a national flagship center at IU for the teaching of Swahili, rebuilding Liberian resources for training nurses, for example, or digitizing important national land records that presently exist only in handwritten ledgers. 

Jacob Otieno, photojournalist from Kenya

Djibril Sy, photojournalist from Senegal