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Overview of the Oral History Archives of Japanese Art

The Oral History Archives of Japanese Art is an organization that is devoted to conducting interviews with individuals involved in the field of art, and collecting and preserving the results as historical documents. The term "oral history" refers both to a record of a speaker's personal memories, and to the research that deals with these documents as scholarly subjects. To create an oral history of Japanese art, we conduct interviews not only with artists but also with a wide range of other individuals associated with Japanese art including critics, curators, gallerists, editors, and administrative officials. It is our goal to record detailed interviews dealing with everything from the speaker's upbringing to their current activities, collect transcripts of these accounts, and in making them available publicly, make a positive contribution to further research.

Interest in post-WWII Japanese art has increased in recent years, inspiring numerous domestic and international exhibitions, and research papers on the subject. Yet, unlike research of the past that relied on printed sources, much of the information related to postwar art exists solely in the memories of those concerned, and unless it is documented, it will one day disappear. By producing an oral history based on interviews, we hope to create an environment in which more comprehensive research can be conducted on Japanese art.

In historical research of the past, oral history was deemed less valuable than written history. But following the Second World War, it quickly developed into a viable approach in the study of history through a series of exchanges with other fields such as sociology and anthropology. The effects of this change were also felt in the art world, as the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution launched an oral-history division in 1958. With a collection that today approaches 3,000 interviews, the archives are an indispensable resource for scholars of American art throughout the world.

With our own oral history, we are attempting to convey individual and collective memories of Japanese art to future generations and enrich scholarly activities by conducting and preserving interviews of historical interest. With a firm belief that this type of interview-based survey is essential in achieving a more multifaceted understanding and proactive evaluation of postwar Japanese art history, we launched the Oral History Archives of Japanese Art in 2006 and remain active in realizing our objectives.