1,000 Portraits of Hope.
The Great North East Earthquake, Tsunami and
Nuclear Meltdown, Japan 3/11/2011
“1,000 Portraits of Hope” and “100 Famous People’s Portraits”
by Naoto Nakagawa
When the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck norhthern Japan on March 11, 2011, I felt powerless to do something substantial to help my homeland. I resolved to visit the devastated area to see it with my own eyes. While I was there I decided to draw portraits of people who were living in shelters, to give them some token that a visitor from far away in America cared about their plight. I remembered that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, school children in Japan sent 4 or 5 sets of 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of healing, to the school my children were attending in New York. I decided to draw “1,000 Portraits” to give as a gift to people who had survived but lost so much in northern Japan - a symbolic way to demostrate that others cared about them and that we support each other in a crisis.
During nine subsequent trips to Japan, I was assisted by humanitarian groups, that arranged for me to visit schools, shelters, homes, hospitals and fishing villages. The response was overwhelming; when I focused on my subjects, they started to talk, or sometimes to cry. One woman told me that she had lost all her family photos in the tsunami, and was so grateful to have my portrait of her to keep in her family.
I began my “1,000 Portraits of Hope” project on May 27, 2011 and completed drawing the 1,000th person (a four-year-old boy) on June 2nd, 2012. I gave all 1,000 portraits to the people who modeled for me by March of 2013, the second anniversary of the disaster. Before that, there were numerous exhibitions of the portraits, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Mishikin Gallery of Baruch College in NYC, the City Hall of Takarazuka-city, the Ishigami no Oka Museum, and the City Hall of Fukushima, Japan.
Working on this project made me realize that because many communities lost schools and teachers, I decided to raise funds for children's art education. I had found that wherever I went, students were hungry for art lessons, which I gave wherever I could, providing art workshops for kindergartners up to high school. To raise funds to help further, I started a new project, “100 Famous People’s Portraits.” So far I have drawn 52 well-known persons, such as former mayor Ed Koch, feminist writer Kate Millet, police commissioner Ray Kelly, actor Oliver Platt, former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. I plan to sell these portraits by auction or in an exhibition. Each portrait takes only 6 or 7 minutes, they are executed quickly and beautifully with an ink pen. Each portrait is signed by me and the model with a message to the people of Japan.
In August 2015, I donated the funds that I raised to various schools in the affected area of northern Japan, for use in art education.