Meltdown at Fukushima: Global Catastrophic Events, Visual Literacy, and Art Education.

Meltdown at Fukushima: Global Catastrophic Events, Visual Literacy, and Art Education.

Lynette K. Henderson (California State University – Northridge, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1665-1.ch005
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How do we integrate topics such as a global catastrophic event with visual literacy? With a spotlight on the 2011 tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors on the coast of Japan, this chapter discusses theory and practice for an innovative thematic curriculum unit. This unit integrates formal studio skills with student learning about an international environmental crisis affecting geographical shores and water life. Students studied the environmental effects of radioactive contamination on sea life in the Pacific Ocean, and ongoing problems and concerns for people in Japan, the U.S. and beyond. Following research activities, students focused on studio work to create mixed-media and brilliantly colored ocean creatures, culminating in a group exhibition entitled Radioactive Seafood Market. The exhibition functioned as a powerful visual learning experience about art and global issues, for both students and the viewing public. Student artwork and exhibition examples include elementary and high school students, and pre-service teachers for high school art education and K-5 classrooms.
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On March 11, 2011, a level 9 earthquake (Hasegawa, 2012; Furukawa & Denison, 2015; Hasegawa, et. al., 2015) occurred under the Pacific Ocean off of the northeast coast of Japan, creating a tsunami that overwhelmed 3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (World Nuclear Association, 2015). Power was knocked out on the 3 reactors, with a subsequent meltdown of those reactors. It is estimated that approximately 15,000 to 18,000 people died or are missing since the disaster (Furukawa & Denison, 2015; Hasegawa, 2012), considered possibly the next worst since Chernobyl, 1986. Thousands of people were evacuated; numbers of residents still in evacuation status as of early 2014 have been reported from “150,000” (Hasegawa, 2012, p.85) to as many as “267,419” (Furukawa & Denison, 2015, p.226).

On the road to global civic learning and engagement, how do we manage to engage our students with sensitive, often conflicted, socio-cultural and political events such as this? Art education, in its ongoing concern with relevancy in the 21st century, must do more than incorporate the tools of digital technology into methods of instruction and art making. In the face of contemporary events, the flow and variety of information available, instruction about consumption and the production of visual material must include not only the formal application of elements and principles but also the practice of forming questions and conducting critical analysis. Topics such as political analysis, separating the motives and actions of people, and methods of effective visual communication are very broad and potentially overwhelming concerns that require depth and breadth in acquired interdisciplinary and transferable skills (Bandyopadhyay, Coleman & DeWolfe, 2013; Holley, 2009; Klein & Newell, 1997; Nandan & London, 2013; Perkins & Salomon, 2012; Warner, 2012; Woods, 1996). The following sections cover these complex topics: analysis and acquisition of information; resistance and understanding; application of interdisciplinary ideas; knowledge and transference; and art production including tools, materials and processes – all within the specific context of a curriculum unit focused on Fukushima and global catastrophic nuclear events.

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