Sachiko Kazama, Dyslympics 2680, 2018, woodcut, 7'11 1⁄2" × 21'.

Sachiko Kazama, Dyslympics 2680, 2018, woodcut, 7'11 1⁄2" × 21'.

Sachiko Kazama

Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels

Printmaker Sachiko Kazama intended to exhibit works parodying links between sports and militarism at the Fuchu Art Museum last year under the rubric “Dyslympics,” but the museum convinced her to change that title, for as an institution operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it is officially committed to supporting the 2020 Games. When Kazama was invited to revisit the subject for a solo show at the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels, a plucky private museum outside of Tokyo with tenacious lefty roots and a decades-long commitment to peace education, she took the opportunity to go bigger than ever.

She created the feature work, Dyslympics 2680, 2018, specifically for this show. At roughly eight by twenty-one feet, it is Kazama’s largest work to date. As a black-and-white monotype printed from twenty-eight different woodblocks carved over the course of just fifty-five days, it is itself something of an Olympic feat. Japan was to have hosted its first Olympiad in 1940, but the event was canceled after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Those games would have marked the twenty-six hundredth anniversary of the legendary founding of Japan by its first emperor. Via a mélange of iconography derived from the histories of architecture, Western art and literature, and Japanese comics, Dyslympics 2680 imagines the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics (eighty years after 1940/2600) as the belated fruition of the fascistic dreams of Japan’s right-wing leadership and its supporters within the all-powerful construction industry. Many of the work’s motifs relate to the defunct National Eugenic Law, also passed in 1940—for instance, a tiered cylinder (derived from Dante’s Purgatorio) displaying athletic female bodies engaged in nude gymnastic exercises, and a large parade of people divided by caste, with the lowest buried in the cement as hitobashira (human pillars), in a performance of an ancient ritual to appease the gods. The imaginary venue’s basic architecture derives from the Kyocera Dome Osaka and the New National Stadium being constructed in Tokyo; it also recalls that perennial symbol of human hubris, Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, 1563.

The two other works in the show were much smaller, and were originally created for the show at the Fuchu Art Museum. Baron Kindai Gosho Maro in Iwo Jima, 2017, another woodblock monotype, portrays Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi, an equestrian gold medalist in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and later a Japanese Imperial Army officer who was killed during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. He is depicted in elaborate battle armor inspired by pentathlon sports equipment, on a horse outfitted like a World War II–era tank. Human Mt. Fuji, 2017, is of black marker on aluminum foil (“fake silver,” according to the artist) attached to sliding-door panels (fusuma). It suggests that contemporary forms of youth socialization harken back to the era of Japanese militarism: A group of children form an eight-level human pyramid against a backdrop of Mount Fuji, surrounded by old wooden army buildings, historical and contemporary Japanese tanks, and the never-developed Fugaku, a Japanese heavy bomber designed to obliterate America.

Over the past decade, political woodcuts have experienced a revival in Japan. While many lefty artists and scholars tend to fetishize the act of carving blocks as a nostalgic return to an era preceding the rise of mass culture, Kazama elevates the medium as a viable way to make showstopping tableaux, as demonstrated in triennials at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, in 2013, and in Yokohama, in 2017. A classic lone-wolf genius in the studio with an open affection for popular culture, she offers through her practice a way to bridge the gap between the hoary activist art of yesteryear and the business and media ecology of post-Superflat Japanese art. I hear her next project is a graphic novel—I can’t wait! I just hope it doesn’t end up as an overpriced art book. It’s one thing to stick it to the man in the confines of the art world, another to stick it in his eye in public.