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Exhibition, Document, Bodies: The (Re)presentation of the Minamata Disease


This dissertation explores the artistic representations of Minamata disease and their

spatial presentation from the critical framework of tenji (exhibition). The examination of

Minamata disease’s complicated history through the tenji framework discloses the relations

between this disease as an ongoing incident and the change brought on to Minamata as an

actual city, and also as a symbolic image of pollution and corruption. Moreover, the manner

and contents of tenji can be construed as a keen reflection of the larger social and national

conditions. With the expanded interpretation of the term “exhibition” beyond mere spatial

presentation and instead as an act of arranging exhibits under curators/exhibitors’ specific

intentions, I widen my observation to what are often categorized under production, such as

artworks. Therefore, my analyses include not only the works being exhibited themselves, but

also how these works, and the artists themselves, are being exhibited in various spaces and

contexts. While the works themselves remain unchanged, what does change are the contexts

and conditions in which they are used or exhibited, or even the very presence of the works

themselves in the space of exhibition.

The dissertation is comprised of three chapters. Chapter 1 examines how the issue of

visual ethics plays out in various forms of exhibition through the close analyses of the ways in

which two young female patients are being (re)presented. They both played symbolic roles in

the history of Minamata disease, and the resulting works compel artists to face the difficulty of

reflecting these patients’ voices onto representations. Chapter 2 focuses on iei (funeral

photograph) in order to observe the relationship among death, photograph and this disease.

The exploration of the portrayals of two Minamata disease patients both as the dead and

undead and also the iei mural created by Tsuchimoto Noriaki reveals how the meaning of each iei, thus each death, is created through its social relationships. Chapter 3 compares two

physical spaces of exhibition for Minamata disease and their environmental and historical

contexts. This observation foregrounds various Minamata disease narratives being created

through the act of (re)presenting this disease, and re-confirms that no one attempt to exhibit it

will be meaningful without the recognition of this essential complexity. And the conclusion

suggests Minamata’s role as part of larger struggle against discrimination and the authority,

rather than as a singular historical event.

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