Invisible Colors: The Arts of the Atomic Age by Gabrielle Decamous

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Invisible Colors jacketInvisible Colors The Arts of the Atomic Age is a monumental work by Gabriele Decamous published by MIT Press that surveys the ways by which art, worldwide, can help make visible what has long been in obscurity – the effects of radioactivity, the lives of radiation-impacted survivors, and the politics of the nuclear age.

Decamous’ fine-tuned radar for finding nuclear art throughout the globe makes this volume a landmark collection of nuclear imagery that explores atomic-inspired art from Marie Curie to the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Chernobyl disaster, the still-unfolding triple meltdowns of Fukushima, and a wide array of other atomic events that have marked our deep, brief, everlasting nuclear history.

Decamous looks at the “Radium Literature” based on the work and life of Marie Curie; “A-Bomb literature” by Hibakusha (bomb survivor) artists from Nagasaki and Hiroshima; responses to the bombings by Western artists and writers; art from the irradiated landscapes of the Cold War—nuclear test sites and uranium mines, mainly in the Pacific and some African nations; and nuclear accidents in Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island. She finds that the artistic voices of the East are often drowned out by those of the West. Hibakusha art and Japanese photographs of the bombing are little known in the West and were censored; poetry from the Marshall Islands and Moruroa is also largely unknown; Western theatrical and cinematic works focus on heroic scientists, military men, and the atomic mushroom cloud rather than the aftermath of the bombings.

Emphasizing art by artists who were present at these nuclear events—the “global Hibakusha”—rather than those reacting at a distance, Decamous puts Eastern and Western art in dialogue, analyzing the aesthetics and the ethics of nuclear representation.