Japanese artist Hiroshi Sunairi has a personal connection with Hiroshima. Apart from growing up in the city, his mother and grandmother were exposed to radiation when the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945.
Many years later, while working with the Hiroshima museum, Sunairi attended a lecture by botanist Chikara Horiguchi who spoke about Hibaku trees, some of the so-called "silent survivors' of that fateful day.
“I was really moved by his work and philosophy. He talks about trees and nature not having an ideology, but they can symbolize a lot of things if we think about them alongside peace, atomic bombs, the environment, all kinds of things. They don't say anything, but they did survive.”
The New York-based Sunairi approached Dr. Horiguchi for some seeds from the Hibaku trees, and that's how the Tree Project was born in 2006. “The tree project has been growing organically without my help; it is a public project. I keep whatever documentation, comments and pictures we gather on my blog called the Tree Project Blog."
Over the course of seven years, Sunairi has given out some 500 seeds to people in more than 50 countries after they were cultivated in the Hiroshima botanical gardens by Dr. Horiguchi.
Spreading the seeds
“You know Dr. Horiguchi saying that the trees have no ideology really helped me because I can talk about the atomic bombings as something catastrophic without mentioning other countries' ideologies. That's what I like about the tree project, it's between us and nature," he says. "I am not so much into what happened and the visceral aspect of Hiroshima because I think there has been a lot of documentation on this already. I wanted to go beyond the reminder of the horrific, and say there is a life beyond what happened. Even terrible something like this happened but there is a beauty of life that encourages and makes people happy, that makes us think about what we have done to the nature.”
But the project has faced its challenges. For instance, differing weather conditions in different countries mean differing results. “Because it's work dealing with nature, it's not so simple, it's a hassle. We have tried to send seeds from the botanical gardens of Hiroshima to Singapore, and the first batch of seeds somehow only one of them sprouted.
The Tree Project is now part of the ongoing M1 Fringe Festival in Singapore. As for Sunairi, he has no plans to wrap up this project any time soon. “The way I think of the project is maybe some of the participants trees are large enough and they want to replant it on the ground in public places and everyone can see these trees that have survived the bombing are now in your country."