March 11, 2018, will mark the seventh anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan.
The disaster touched many, including Japanese-born, Lenexa-based quilter Cindy Parry. Six months after the tragic event, Parry began work on a fiber art memorial, “Tohoku Daishinsai (Tohoku Disaster).”
The work, which has been exhibited in D.C., Chicago and Minneapolis and on Japan’s NHK TV’s 4th anniversary feature, currently consists of 13 art quilts; it will be a series of 14 when completed.
Parry was born in Japan. Her family moved to the U.S. soon after, but the artist returns frequently to visit relatives on her mother’s side. When the crisis happened, Parry felt paralyzed by the magnitude and intensity of the tragedy, but found she couldn’t stop watching coverage. She decided to transfer her feelings into her art.
“Pictures started floating in my head,” Parry said. Names for the pieces also came to mind and thus began her project, moving from the first quilt, “Magnitude 9.0,” to the last, “Aftermath,” which is in progress.
Parry says she never considered that her pieces would be seen by others — the project began as a cathartic exercise for herself. But friends who saw the quilts urged her to present them publicly. In recent years, Parry has made roughly a dozen presentations to regional quilting organizations and appeared at the annual Japan Festival on the campus of Johnson County Community College. She is very active with a fiber art group called Fractured Fabrics and a member of The Few, a subset of five of its members.
The “Tohoku Daishinsai” quilts are moving and powerful, each singular in style, composition, size and theme. They employ a multitude of techniques, including thread painting, hand water-coloring and printing on fabrics, tearing, crimping, yarn-edging and twisting. Some quilts feature actual headlines and newspaper reports from Japan as well as maps of the islands, photographs Parry herself has taken and images from traditional Japanese art and history. Others display netting with trapped miniature Japanese objects and phrases in English and Japanese.
The imagery is vivid: waves and currents, flotsam and debris, burning reactors, geologic layers, billowing clouds, ash and embers, citizens overcome. Text additions include statistics and Richter readings and meaningful phrases such as “160,000 Displaced” and “Who Do We Trust?” implying uncertainty in the official reports of reduced threat levels.
The third quilt, “Epicenter,” featuring a dramatic black-bordered red square, is the only “modern art” quilt. “Sakura Line” is the cheeriest and most hopeful, depicting cherry blossoms in bloom again. “Lost” is the quilt Parry says was most emotional for her. It presents her interpretation of a published photo of a traumatized young woman sitting in a motionless stupor amid a mountain of debris.
The final “Aftermath” quilt will address the nuclear waste cleanup. Parry, who has watched numerous videos detailing the cleanup efforts, is struck by the magnitude of the task. She notes that, unlike Chernobyl, Japan’s nuclear site cannot be abandoned, it must be rehabilitated; space in the small nation is simply too critical.
As she finishes “Aftermath,” Parry has also begun a new project, depicting scenes and lives of the Japanese Internment during WWII. She has completed two and one is laid out; she’s not sure how many will follow. Prominently featured in each will be an image of her grandniece in Japan. The first piece has been juried into the national exhibition, “OURstory: Human Rights Stories in Fabric,” which began a national tour in January.
Parry will speak March 6 at the Blue Valley Quilt Guild. Keep up with Parry and her events through her Facebook page, Cindy Parry Quilting.