through the eyes of the other…
We don’t look at people as they are but only as we are. With our own perspective, our own beliefs and prejudices we judge the other from a safe distance. It’s the way our mind works. Its the way our society works. With each new encounter, we use these patterns, handed down by our culture, our family and enhanced by the media. These days again this mechanism results in a human divide. In a them versus us.
It is early 1940. Nazi Germany is gaining momentum and thousands upon thousands of Jewish people are caught in Kaunas, Lithuania between the advancing German troops and the Russian army taking over the Baltic States. On the 24th of July, two men in Kaunas do what they thought needed to be done. Irrespective of whether they knew these Jewish refugees, they started issuing visa for them. The Dutch consul for entrance to the dutch territory of Curaçao, the Japanse for the transit via Kobe Japan. In only two weeks, they issued 2.345 visa, rescuing the lives of well over 6.000 Jews. Both showed empathy in times when there was none. Both expressed that unique human talent of looking at the world through the eyes of the other. What they saw gave them the strength to do what needed to be done.
If only today we also had the courage
to look at the world
through the eyes of the other
to show the other omoiyari….
Our project started on the 22st of November 2016, when we went to Kaunas as the Artists in Residence for the Kaunas Photogallery. Right until the 21st of December, we worked on the imagery and poetry to recapture the human empathy of those days in a contemporary way. To us this is stage 1 of a longer term project.
Our second stage is in Japan in August and September 2017.
We will do so as part of our residency at Shiro Oni Studio, which is just a short drive away from the place where mr. Shugihara spent the last years of his live. We want to go the little town of Kobe, which took all these thousands of Jewish refugees into their town after they had crossed Russia by train and took the boat from Vladivostok and gave them a warm welcome. Right until today it is on of the bigger Jewish settlements in Japan. In Kobe and elsewhere we want to see what made these people reach out to unknown refugees and extending them this warmest welcome.
The final stage might bring us back to Kaunas again.
In any case we want to deliver a book and an exhibition on this journey of a universal story of human empathy in difficult times. We hope that the result will be such that other places and organisations will take up our challenge and use the exhibition as a starting point for their own awareness of the need for empathy.