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Texts by Naoki Onaga, curator,
Okinawa Contemporary Art Museum Project
Cultural Promotion Division, Okinawa Prefectural Government


1. History of the Okinawan fine arts in postwar era

It's been 100 years since Western art was first introduced to Okinawa through mainland Japan. Those years may be long enough to form Okinawan unique 'product', although it was a reproduction of the Western art at the beginning; there must be an influence by historical and geographical characteristic of Okinawa which is totally different from those of Japan. I would not say the Okinawan art has been developed autonomously and immanently. In this essay, I would like to examine social factors which influenced on Okinawan art being shaped, and review the history of Okinawan art.

2. Social factors which shaped the Okinawan art after the World War II

Three factors can be considered which shaped Okinawan art after the war. First one is a relationship to the United States. Some say no direct influence was made by the United States on Okinawan art in postwar era, but I would like to emphasize here there were some significant factors.
Soon after the war, the U.S. Military Government directly employed artists as 'art technical advisors' at the Arts and Monuments Department. For several years since then Okinawan artists were well off. Military families ordered to paint a lot of portraits. The U.S. Military Government protected and promoted Okinawan culture on one hand and ignored the human rights of Okinawan people on the other. It caused ambivalent feeling toward the U.S. among Okinawan artists, which was an overwhelming reality the artists faced at that time.
The second factor which shaped postwar Okinawan art is the relationship to mainland Japan. It was the ultimate goal for Okinawan artists to win a prize at an award in the exhibition organized by a mainland artistic bodies or associations, and to become a member of the associations. It was simply because the artists were anxious about their talent and ability in a small world of art in Okinawa and they wanted to be recognized. This meant to acquire a social value of their existence and a good reputation. They rushed to attempt to achieve an equal footing with artists of Japanese mainland. This resulted in, several Okinawa branches of artistic associations mainland were formed in 1970's. Many Okinawan artists joined those associations.
This period saw the Western avant-garde art movement, style, art theory introduced to Okinawa, via Japan, through art magazines or journals. In addition, the U.S. Military Government supported a program sending Okinawan students to U.S.. By 1972 this program sent more than 1,110 students to U.S. However, art and music were not the subject area of this program, so students who wanted to pursue their artistic career went to the University of the Ryukyus or art colleges in mainland Japan.
The third factor is a relationship between academism and journalism in Okinawa. The Okinawa Times, an Okinawan local newspaper, and University of Ryukyus organized Okiten, which was the first art exhibition. It can be said that Okiten raised many artists by the year of 1970.

3. Characteristic of Okinawan art in postwar era

First characteristic in Post-War era in Okinawa art is that a tradition of Ryukyuan Painting was wiped out and the Western paintings introduced through mainland -Japan became a mainstream. The second one is the time lag between mainland Japan; appreciating modernism started finally after the war, and anti-modernism attitude did not appeared. This leaded to the lack of avant-garde movement based on Okinawan climate. Third one is that works which had political or social themes were less produced. Finally, hierarchy does not exist in Okinawan artistic scene which is often seen in that of mainland Japan.

4. Timeline of the History of postwar Okinawan Art

A history of Okinawan art after the Second World War falls into four periods.
The first one is four years between 1945 and 1949 which is the year 'Okiten', or 'Okinawan Art Exhibition' started. In this period, the U.S. Military Government supported Okinawan artists. They hired the artists as 'art technical advisors' in Arts and Monuments Department, and until the artists moved to Nishimui, Shuri, to form a Shuri Art Colony, Military Government had a great influence on the artists.
The second period is 1950's to early 1970's. In this period, modernism was practiced and after that informel and Dada-ish movements arose and disappeared.
The third period is from the year of Reversion of Okinawa to the end of1970's, which is the period many Okinawan artists began to join art associations in mainland Japan.
The fourth period is 1980's. Exhibition spaces increased, Okinawa Prefectural Art University was established, and the bubble economy in Japan started to influence on Okinawan society and culture with post-modern culture.It is also a period that Okinawa began to be aware of its identity, and at the same time, to recognize its own cultural uniqueness to speak out.