Artists Responding to Atomic Bombing for 30th Westheimer Peace Symposium

January 31, 2020

Response Project to Feature Musicians, Filmmaker, Poets and Other Artists

This fall’s 30th edition of the Westheimer Peace Symposium at Wilmington College will include a multimedia commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing in World War II. The 2020 theme is “Peace and the Nature of War” with a focus on nuclear war and the first use of nuclear weapons.

Artists representing genres ranging from music and two-dimensional art to filmmaking and poetry will respond to something they experienced while visiting the Peace Resource Center (PRC) at WC this winter or spring. It could be a photograph they see, a document they read, an audio recording they hear or even an overarching theme they sense while discovering the PRC’s collection.

They will return to campus for the Oct. 1 Peace Symposium to perform or otherwise display, through their respective artistic media, their response to what they experienced months earlier at the Peace Resource Center.

Through artifacts and the largest depository of information in America on the atomic bombings, the PRC bears witness to the historical experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing survivors and the legacies of nonviolent activists touched by the horrors of nuclear war.

Dr. Brianna Matzke, assistant professor of music, and PRC director/symposium coordinator Dr. Tanya Maus are organizing this artistic expression.

For Matzke, it represents the latest in her Response Project series that, in recent years, has had musical and visual artists respond to such cultural phenomena as the Black Lives Matter movement and Bob Dylan’s seminal Highway 61 Revisited album.

“I’ve done other Response Projects and each time it takes on a different tone, yet it’s another historical moment we’re responding to,” she said. “While this is a continuation of previous Response Projects, it’s different because this is the first time in which people are responding to an event (the atomic bombings). Every other Response Project has been a response to a work of art or an idea.”

It also will be the first time that Matzke, a virtuoso pianist, will not be performing as part of the project. Indeed, she is focusing on organizing the event as an artistic entrepreneur. She and Maus used their connections in inviting the seven artists from locales as diverse as Cincinnati, Virginia, New York City and Wilmington to participate.

“I’m so glad Tanya asked me to do this,” Matzke said. “The mission of the Peace Resource Center is to build an awareness, so these things never happen again. I believe these incredible artists will make events from 75 years ago fresh and real in the 21st century.

The announced artists and their respective genres are: Jody Rambo, poet; Brian Frye, filmmaker; Elin O’Hara Slavick, poet; and Hal Shunk, two-dimensional artist. The other three will likely be a conceptual artist, jazz musician and hip-hop musician who will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Shunk is a professor of art at Wilmington College, who will produce a 34×34-inch painted canvas based upon the “cleansing power of water.” He explained that, while reading materials on the atomic bombings, he was “immediately taken” by the need for and use of water with regard to the Japanese people affected by the horrific conflagration.