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Gennifer Weisenfeld - Gas Mask Nation: Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan

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Event Details:

This talk presents a fascinating look at the anxious pleasures of Japanese visual culture during World War II. Airplanes, gas masks, and bombs were common images in wartime Japan. Yet amid these emblems of anxiety, tasty caramels were offered to children with paper gas masks as promotional giveaways, and magazines featured everything from attractive models in the latest civil defense fashion to futuristic weapons. Gennifer Weisenfeld’s new book Gas Mask Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2023) explores the multilayered construction of an anxious yet perversely pleasurable visual culture of Japanese civil air defense—or bōkū—through a diverse range of artworks, photographs, films and newsreels, magazine illustrations, postcards, cartoons, advertising, fashion, everyday goods,government posters, and state propaganda. Gas Mask Nation reveals the immersive aspects of this culture, in which Japan's imperial subjects were mobilized to regularly perform highly orchestrated civil air defense drills throughout the country.

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About the speaker:

GENNIFER WEISENFELD is Walter H. Annenberg Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University. Her field of research is modern and contemporary Japanese art history, design,and visual culture. Her first book, Mavo: Japanese Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1905-1931 (University of California Press, 2002) addresses the relationship between highart and massculture in the aesthetic politics of the avant-garde in 1920s Japan. Her second book, ImagingDisaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923 (University ofCalifornia Press, 2012, Japanese edition Seidosha, 2014) examines how visual culture hasmediated the historical understanding of Japan’s worst national disaster of the twentiethcentury. Her third book, Gas Mask Nation: Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2023) explores the anxious pleasures of Japanese visual cultureduring World War II. Shehas published extensively on the history of Japanese design, includinga core essay for MIT’s award-winning website Visualizing Cultures on the Shiseido cosmeticcompany’s advertising design. She has a forthcoming book on the history of Japanesecommercial art and design titled The Fine Art of Persuasion:Corporate Advertising Design,Nation, and Empire in Modern Japan (Duke University Press).