​This Haunting Survivor Artwork Depicts the Horror of Nuclear Weapons
Created by Akiko Takakura. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

​This Haunting Survivor Artwork Depicts the Horror of Nuclear Weapons

These illustrations by atom bomb survivors are a chilling reminder of the visceral power of visual storytelling.
April 21, 2016, 10:00am

Seventy years after the Cold War, the threat of the Atomic Age is greater than ever. Nine countries have stockpiles of nuclear weapons thousands deep and more powerful than the atom bomb that hit Hiroshima in 1945. Yet the horrors of nuclear warfare are no longer at the forefront of the public consciousness—a troubling amnesia that art has the power to change.

In 1974, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) started collecting paintings and drawings from people who had lived through the atomic bombings and exhibited them the following year in Hiroshima. A few of these haunting drawings are shown in a new experimental documentary film, the bomb, an immersive multimedia depiction of the story of nuclear weapons. The film aims to do what the survivor artwork exhibition did in 1974: provide a new window through which to experience the horror of nuclear warfare, to make sure it's not forgotten.

The bomb, created by filmmaker Smriti Keshari and author Eric Schlosser, premieres Saturday April 23 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film will be projected on floor-to-ceiling screens surrounding the audience in 360 degrees, while a live band plays the film's soundtrack live in the center of the space. The idea is to break away from traditional linear viewing to put the audience "inside" the film, creating a more impactful, visceral way to experience the story of the nuclear bomb.

There's no voiceover and next to no conversation, a testament to the power of visuals to tell a story. The film uses archival footage, animations, and brilliant aesthetics to tell the story, but what struck me were the drawings made by atom bomb survivors shown about halfway through the documentary. The music stops, everything goes black, and a minute later the illustrations appear on the screen backdropped by silence. It's chilling.

The pieces shown in the film are part of a larger collection of survivor artwork kept at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan, which gave Motherboard permission to republish the selections below.

Created by Haruo Ikegame. These are people who were escaping in the direction of Yoshijima Air Field on August 6. There was a long line of people fleeing, crying for water and thrusting their arms forward. On the side exposed to the flash, their clothes were tattered, their bodies burned red and festering, their skin peeled back and hanging in shreds. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Yoshiko Michitsuji. In the sea of fire. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Matsumuro Kazuo. She held her arms out in front to keep the burned, hanging skin off the ground. To prevent their red, exposed flesh from sticking, people thrust their arms in front of them like ghosts. Their skin, like the thin skin of potato, hung from the fingernails, where it was still attached. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Kichisuke Yoshimura. Artist's comments summarized: "Their clothes ripped to shreds, their skin hanging down. On the riverbank I saw figures that seemed to be from another world. Ghost-like, their hair falling over their faces, their clothes ripped to shreds, their skin hanging. A cluster of these injured persons was moving wordlessly toward the outskirts." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Akiko Takakura. Artist's comments quoted from a document: "Black, black rain. Huge drops. People with injuries and burns. The ones still living craned their faces to the sky and opened their mouths wide to catch the drops. Hot bodies, so very hot, like balls of fire-they wanted water." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

"Younger Brother Who Died while Vomiting Blood," created by Masato Yamashita. Atsumu Yamashita was exposed to the bomb while doing building demolition work in Dohashi. He returned to his home on August 20th. On around the 25th, he came down with a nosebleed, his hair fell out, and small red spots appeared all over his body. On the 31st, he died while vomiting blood. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Masato Yamashita. A girl had died in the Enkogawa riverbed with no one there to help her. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Onogi Akira. People wanting water gathered around the cisterns. I found them just as they were when they drank and died. My heart aches as I apply the red color. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Mitsuko Taguchi. Artist's comments summarized: "Carrying her child, she had probably been unable to outrun the flames. Her hair was standing on end. She still protected her child under her breast, like a living person. Her eyes were open wide. I cannot forget that shocking sight." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Chisako Sasaki. Excerpt of artist comment: "I heard a very young girl shouting for help from a burning upstairs window. The memory still haunts me." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Masahiko Nakata. A cart driver and his horse died together on the approach to the bridge. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Kichisuke Yoshimura. Artist's explanation: "Covered with blood, trudging silently away like ghosts from the city, the injured looked like creatures from another world." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Kobashi Someharu. Fukuya Department Store, burning and burning. Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Created by Susumu Horikoshi. Approx. 30km from the hypocenter Kake-cho, Yamagata-gun. Susumu Horikoshi (then 6) saw the flash and heard a loud roar as if lighting had struck nearby. Soon, from the other side of the mountain, a mushroom cloud rose into the sky. As the cloud gradually swelled, it glinted a brilliant silver under the sun. The memory still haunts me." Image courtesy of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


At the film's premiere, artwork inspired by the threat of nuclear weapons will also be on display by contemporary artists. The images and artists' statements below also aim to spark a conversation and raise awareness about the reality of nuclear warfare today. The entire collection can be viewed at www.thebombnow.com.

"KABOOM" by Carly Foulkes. "Kaboom" presents us with a composite that is at once both nostalgic and tragic. We are moved to look back upon a time often remembered wistfully—and thus, paradoxically—as the "Atomic Age," while coming face-to-face with the reality that such an image could very well loom on our own horizon. In so doing, Foulkes brings to question the conception of nuclear fallout as a relic belonging to a bygone era. The Atomic Age might have passed, but threat of nuclear weapons has not.

"Wish You Were Here" by Victoria Seimer. Also known as Witchoria, Victoria Seimer is a graphic designer based in Brooklyn, New York.

"I love you so" by Francesco Vullo. ''I love you so'' tells the story of a needed love between a man and a weapon. A love worth thousands of lives. The artwork is a remake of the iconic picture (V-J Day in Times Square, by Alfred Eisenstaedt 1945) showing the other face of war: indifference. Taking a closer look at the depersonalization of the individuals in today's society. The piece's sense can be summarized by Dr. Strangelove's claim: "How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb."

"Intelligence in the service of insanity" by Matthew Ryan Herget. It's my understanding that the path this Earth ultimately takes is going to be a reflection of our decisions and core beliefs. As a whole, the route we're taking is closing us off from one another and thus making everyone fearful of their neighbor. We now have the ability to rid our selves of the very host that takes care of us. The image metaphorically and symbolically represents kind of a mass undertone that we have chosen over the course of many years and that undertone is the will and ability to consistently figure out how to harm ourselves in the service of protecting one delusion after another.

"People Falling" by Peter Wieben. The first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945. After witnessing the test, J. Robert Oppenheimer said he was reminded of the words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." In this scene, Krishna is speaking to Arjuna. He has just shown Arjuna a vision of Truth. All of the people of the world, past and future, are falling helplessly into Krishna's mouth. The mouth is on fire, and as large as the sky. There are thousands of teeth, and everything the people know crashes into the teeth and is completely destroyed. I have drawn a small number of people out of what would have been billions. When Arjuna sees this vision he falls on the ground and he tells Krishna that while this vision was intended to teach him something, it has taken all of his courage, and all of his peace.

"Melted" by Slime Sunday. Nukes will melt your head.

"Control+Select All+ Delete" by Juan Pablo Fuentes. A nuclear eraser, made for people to see how easy it is to delete our short human history.