BANTA CLIFFS AND GAMA CAVES
In Okinawa, the precipitous cliffs that fall hundreds of feet to the ocean below are called banta. For years I have carried with me a vivid memory of the first time I stood atop these cliffs – a memory of beauty in the endless blue expanse of sea and sky intensified by the fearsome height and history that met my downward gaze. This memory later drove me to revisit and descend those very cliffs. Standing at their feet for the first time I felt in the cliffs’ full visceral weight, something so powerful that I was initially unable to take even a single photograph. I returned to my studio after six months of researching and exploring the South Pacific Theater with thousands of image files of the cliffs to piece together. As I re-shaped and re-experienced the original digital images, these cliffs became a metaphor for Okinawa’s history as well as digitally manipulated, hyper-real vision of my experience standing between fear and beauty on Okinawa’s banta.
From the banta cliffs of Okinawa, mabui - the spirits of the land, of the deceased - led me into the gama caves below. These caves are the sacred home of Okinawa’s spirits – its ancestors, its history, its memory. Enveloped total darkness, what could I possibly see? Yet inside the earth’s womb, deep in this darkness, the conversation continues. With just a flashlight in hand, I search for anything I might find, unable to entirely illuminate my surroundings. What am I hearing? What can I express for them? How will these images of darkness speak to others? These questions continue to resonate in my mind as I return from the blackness of the caves to my studio to draw out the spirits of this place.
Thousands of civilians were driven to commit suicide during the battle of Okinawa, WWII by jumping from the island’s precipitous banta cliffs. Thousands more died in the inland’s gama caves – either at their own hands, those of their neighbors, or at the hands of either of the military forces fighting over the island.
Osamu James Nakagawa