Healing Power of Art

Through art, SU’s Naomi Kasumi honors Japanese tsunami victims and survivors

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by Naomi Kasumi
March 13, 2012
In March, Naomi Kasumi travels to Japan to hand deliver "Requiem 3.11," an exhibit she created to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged her native country. The artwork she created will be displayed inside a temple in Fukushima Prefecture, one of the hardest hit areas in the country.

The associate professor of Fine Arts was on sabbatical in New Delhi, India, last year when the earthquake hit. She just happened to be on the phone with her niece who lives in Japan at the very moment the rumbling started. "She was yelling, 'Earthquake, earthquake!'" Kasumi recalls.

Kasumi's family and friends survived, but she found herself particularly affected by the tragedy. While videos and images of the disaster flooded the Internet, Kasumi couldn't bring herself to watch. Instead, she turned to art and began creating waves out of paper.

But just as she was processing her home country's collective grief, Kasumi was confronted with another, more personal crisis. She became violently ill and was admitted to the hospital. With her blood pressure dropping to a staggeringly low 50/30, she was diagnosed with pneumonia and septicemia, a blood infection that is quite often fatal. Kasumi spent more than a week in intensive care, clinging to life.

As she regained her health, Kasumi couldn't help but draw a mystical connection between the events in Japan and what had happened in her own life. "I felt like I was connected to an energy that was bigger than I am," she says.

With the sense of a higher calling, Kasumi returned to the art work she had been creating before getting sick. In time, her project would expand to include 11 hanging scrolls. The scrolls contain brief messages of support and comfort from people at Seattle University and from throughout the world, all written in invisible ink. Kasumi will bring the words to life in her studio by performing her own ritual, holding a candle under the ink. Also appearing on the scrolls are 1,000 cranes made out of white paper by Kasumi, SU students and members from local Japanese groups. As she explains, 1,000 cranes are a traditionally significant symbol good fortune and hope for the Japanese people.

Kasumi's past art exhibits have been featured locally in the Wing Luke Museum and throughout the world, including New Delhi and Japan. Word of her previous exhibition in another Japanese temple was passed along "from monk to monk," she says, paving the way for her current work to be chosen for the Choraku-ji temple in Fukushima. "Requiem 3.11" will be displayed there for 10 days. While in Japan, Kasumi will be presenting a second exhibition that features other works she's done recently. She also plans to do some volunteer work.

Kasumi is hoping that in some small way her “Requiem 3.11” exhibit will contribute to the healing process.
“The power of nature is so moving,” she says. "Nature can take everything from us. It's scary, but it also gives us so much. It gives us life.”
kasumi portrait Associate Professor Naomi Kasumi works on the cranes that are part of the art installation that will be displayed in Japan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami there.