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Seeking ‘Meaning of Memory’

Aug. 5, 2015

American writer John Hersey’s description of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was a sensation when it came out in 1946. His grandson, Cannon Hersey has been digging into the archives to learn more. He is also turning his talents to the story of Hiroshima, and taking up where his grandfather left off.

Cannon is an artist based in New York City and he aims to use his art to raise awareness of people whose lives are altered by war and discrimination.

Cannon’s grandfather was a war correspondent whose article in the New Yorker exposed the suffering of Hiroshima bomb victims. It sent shock waves throughout the United States.

Hersey didn’t really talk about his article with Cannon. Curious about the Hiroshima his grandfather experienced, Cannon visited the city for the first time this year, 70 years after the war ended. He saw the scars of the atomic bomb, which still remain, and a large tree about a kilometer from the epicenter, one of those that grew in an area devastated in raging fires.

Cannon also visited a hospital that treated survivors and had the opportunity to learn about the stigma surrounding survivors. “Basically, I was always worried,” survivor Teruko Ueno told him. “Many of our friends got cancer. Many survivors of the bomb didn’t or couldn’t marry because of prejudice against them.”

John Hersey visited Hiroshima again in 1985 and coined the phrase “meaning of memory.” The memories themselves, he thought, were beacons of hope for mankind. “For my grandfather, that meant literally representing what six survivors had been through at that time,” Cannon says. “I think for this generation, we need a different approach. I feel a big ambition right now to allow people to find the meaning of their own memories by creating experience.”

Cannon has decided to use art as a means to express the meaning of memory that his grandfather wanted to convey. He met with local students and young people in order to pique their interest. He used his conversations with survivors to encourage them to contemplate the meaning of memory. First, Cannon created a piece about his impressions of his experience in Hiroshima. Then the young students put great effort into creating a piece that would reflect the “meaning of memory.”

Together, they created a picture book that’s intended to convey the horror of the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons to future generations. Also participating in the project were students from Nagasaki, which suffered from the after effects of the second atomic bomb.

“I feel an obligation not just from my own personal legacy but obligation we all share,” Cannon says. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught me a lot about humanity. Through understanding human experiences, we can understand better way. So I took from this journey, and I hope to reflect on more.”