Art TED Fellows

Serge Mouangue’s sculptural commemoration of the Japanese tsunami

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Two years ago today, a massive earthquake rocked Japan and sent a tsunami raging over its shores. Nearly 19,000 people were killed; more than 300,000 were displaced. TED Fellow Serge Mouangue was living in Tokyo at the time. A native of Cameroon, he had been exploring the similarities between West African and Japanese cultures in art, making mash-up pieces such as a kimono made from African cloth.

“As in my native culture, the Japanese people have a religious connection with their environment. Never had the environment or the elements sent a stronger message,” says Mouangue, who found the reaction to the disaster around him deeply affecting. “I related to their bitter silence, their stoic, tearless focus and their feeling of betrayal by the environment.”

To commemorate the rebuilding process, Mouangue has created a new series of sculptures, called “The Blood Brothers.” The colorful characters look somewhat like aliens — they are large-eyed, flat-headed, round-bellied beings based on the folklore of Mouangue’s Bamileke tribe. But while the sculptures have their roots in Cameroon culture, they are also distinctly Japanese, thanks to their material, traditional red lacquer. They’re unbelievably cute, but they also have a serious message. “After March 11, 2011, the Japanese people promised each other in solidarity to rebuild a better country,” says Mouangue. His aliens are designed to represent that effort.