Planting art for the family

Planting art for the family
The hibaku seedlings originated from a camphor tree that went through the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.

There are four perky camphor seedlings growing on my family's patio, not entirely out of place in my father's well-tended patch of potted plants.

Except, of course, for the fact that these seedlings were never expected to live in the first place.

They came from a camphor tree in Hiroshima, Japan, one of thousands of so called hibaku trees that were burned and broken during World War II. Hibaku roughly translates to "something that has survived a nuclear bomb".

A few months ago, I met the Japanese artist and film-maker Hiroshi Sunairi, who was on a press trip to Singapore as part of the upcoming M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in January. After the festival's media launch, we talked about his Tree Project, a tender, life-affirming artwork that brings together nature, history and people.

Sunairi was born in Hiroshima, but currently lives in New York, where he teaches and works. In 2006, while driving through his home town and pondering an art installation that had reached an impasse, he came across a pamphlet advertising a talk by botanist Chikara Horiguchi, who specialises in caring for hibaku trees.

Intrigued, Sunairi went for the lecture. He found himself profoundly moved by the stories of these silent survivors.

"Dr Horiguchi talked about how trees have no ideology," he said to me, "they don't talk about nations or gender. It's a silent testimony."

Sunairi immediately asked the botanist to collaborate with him on an art project commemorating Hiroshima's experience of the atomic bombing. And then he asked Dr Horiguchi for a handful of seeds as a souvenir for his friends and students.

On impulse, I asked: "Do you have any seeds left?"

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