University of Cambridge > > The Heong Gallery > What does it mean to remember Fukushima in the UK today? COVID, Climate Change, and Ukraine.

What does it mean to remember Fukushima in the UK today? COVID, Climate Change, and Ukraine.

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Panel discussion to mark the exhibition Picturing the Invisible at The Heong Gallery.

Yoi Kawakubo (photographer) buries silver halide film in the contaminated soils of Fukushima’s exclusion zone to produce a powerful series of abstracts, titled If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst in the skies at once. His work has been exhibited at venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; and the National Art Centre, Tokyo. Among other accolades, Yoi won the 2015 Ohara Museum of Art Prize and was shortlisted for the 2016 Shiseido Art Egg Prize and the 2012 Sovereign Asian Art Prize (Hong Kong).

Giles Price (photographer) uses thermal technology to render eerie everyday scenes in Namie and Iitate, two towns heavily exposed to the effects of the nuclear disaster. In so doing, his Restricted Residence series evokes the ghostly presence of radiation, which has deterred so many residents from returning to their homes, even now many evacuation orders have been lifted. Price’s work has been exhibited at The Photographers Gallery, London; National Portrait Gallery, London; Imperial War Museum, London; as well as numerous international venues. He is a contributor to various publications including The New York Times Magazine, FT Weekend Magazine, Guardian Weekend Magazine, Telegraph Magazine, and Bloomberg Markets.

Dr Brigitte Steger (Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies, University of Cambridge and co-editor ‘Japan Copes with Calamity) is one of the essayists involved in Picturing the Invisible. The tsunami disasters of March 2011 prompted her to travel to northeastern Japan, where she was the only researcher to live alongside survivors in a shelter. She observed that problems with cleanliness became a symbol of shared suffering in the shelters, and that survivors tried to regain a sense of normality by organising household routines according to deeply rooted social structures.

Dr Makoto Takahashi (Fulbright-Lloyd’s Fellow, Program on STS , Harvard University and curator of Picturing the Invisible)has worked on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster for 10 years. He received his BA, MPhil, and PhD from Cambridge University and was previously a visiting fellow at Waseda and a Lecturer at TU Munich. His thesis examined how claims to expert authority have been made in conditions of low public trust and received the American Association of Geographers’ Jacques May Thesis Prize. Picturing the Invisible has been exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society, London and TU Munich.

Leigh Turner (British Ambassador to Ukraine 2008-12) is a former British diplomat and civil servant with over forty years of experience. He was joint head of the Foreign Office Crisis Unit set up in 2014 to respond to the Russian occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Turner’s book A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy is due to be published in Spring 2013 and explores ‘the background to the conflict: what the world did wrong, what it did right, and what Vladimir Putin does not understand’.


23 February to 23 April 2023. Wednesday to Sunday 12-5. Free Admission

How does one photograph radiation? Trauma? Or the resilience of communities forced to contend with both? Picturing the Invisible brings together seven celebrated photographers to examine the lasting legacy of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.

Declared the ‘worst crisis Japan has faced since World War II’ by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – forcing 200,000 people from their homes. This exhibition captures how, even today, vast swathes of land remain uninhabitable: the contamination of plants and soil made visible to visitors through technical means. However, it also explores how efforts to decontaminate the region continue. The exclusion zone is slowly shrinking and as evacuation orders are lifted, residents are being incentivised to return home. Few choose to do so – and many of those who do are old. One village found that only a third of its residents chose to return and more than 70% of them are over the age of 65. Those who do return discover that few wish to buy food ‘made in Fukushima’, posing an additional challenge for traditionally agricultural communities. This exhibition provides an intimate portrait of the peoples rebuilding their lives in the affected territories. It examines their memories of disaster, their continued contact with radiation, and their efforts to reclaim their heritage.

The photographs are complimented by a series of short essays, provided by policymakers, experts, and activists united in their deep engagement with the “triple disaster” and nuclear issues. Contributors include: Sir David Warren (British Ambassador to Japan, 2008–12); Science and Technology Studies pioneers, Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard) and Brian Wynne (Lancaster); Japanologists, Richard Samuels (MIT) and Brigitte Steger (Cambridge); ICRP Vice-Chair Jacques Lochard; best selling author, Robert Macfarlane (Cambridge); and famed environmentalist, Aileen Mioko Smith (Director, Green Action and co-author of “Minamata: A warning to the world”).

Access statement:

The Howard Theatre is accessible via a lift (1st floor), and wheelchair-accessible toilet facilities are also available via a lift (Basement Level). In the theatre, there is padded seating, designated spaces for wheelchair users, and sufficient space for an assistance dog. There is a hearing loop facility available by request IN ADVANCE . Lighting levels will be low during the event. You are free to arrive, leave, stand up, lie down, or take a break at any time, without giving a reason.

This talk is part of the The Heong Gallery series.

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