Trans Local Networking of DIY Art Collectives from Asia to Europe

Trans Local Networking of DIY Art Collectives from Asia to Europe—The Case of A3BC




With the present development of globalization, activities that transcend borders have both expanded and diversified. People all over the world transmit local information using the internet and mobile phones, social networks, and social media. Low cost air travel has rapidly taken root in the airline industry, allowing for cultural exchanges to thrive globally in the physical realm, as well as the virtual. In recent years, as the circulation of people, things, and information has been made easier by these new infrastructures, activism through the vehicle of a very traditional medium, woodblock printing, has paved the way for the formation of new networks in various regions of east and southeast Asia that combine politics and art. I will examine some of these developments as forms of art activism, particularly from the perspective of DIY (do-it-yourself) or punk culture.

The example that I will concentrate on for this essay is an art collective called A3BC (Anti-War, Anti-Nuclear, and Arts Block-print Collective), a group that collaboratively creates woodblock prints that focus on anti-war and anti-nuclear issues. A3BC exhibits both in art spaces and in the actual sites of social movements and protests, and interacts with collectives in Asia and Europe that share the same spirit of DIY/punk culture and an awareness of related issues in a global context. The spirit of DIY has guided the group’s organization. The roots of DIY lie in anarchism, particularly the conviction that the will of the individual is of utmost importance and should be autonomous from repressive external forces. Since the 1970s, DIY/punk subculture has spread from its origins in the UK to be incorporated into various practices beyond punk music, such as street art, fashion, contemporary art, and publishing, acting as an antithesis to the pervasive materialism and consumerism of global capitalism, both symbolically and as an actual alternative way of living [1]. DIY practices emphasize building fair and equal relationships among people in daily life in order to overcome social constructs that serve repressive forms of political power and, as discussed below, inform the ethics of A3BC.

Before turning to A3BC in more detail, I will take a moment to introduce the history of woodblock printing in Japan, since it is an art form that many people readily associate with Japanese culture. Throughout its history, woodblock printing in Japan has oscillated between being a form of high art, on the one hand, and a form of expression closely integrated into daily life, on the other. In the Edo period (1600-1868), woodblock printing was used to make maps, karuta (gaming cards), sugoroku (board game using dice), and even decorative prints to ward off evil spirits [2]. It was rooted in everyday life and popular culture while its production gradually became more commercialized. As printing techniques developed, a division of labor became common, between eshi (painter), horishi (carver), and surishi (printer) who would each dedicate themselves to their area of expertise. With the advent of westernization in the late nineteenth century, artists set about recreating print making as a form of fine art (bijutsu): a process that undid the division of labor that characterized Edo-era printmaking [3]. One artist was expected to execute all the processes of drafting, carving, and printing by themselves. This new approach was called creative printmaking (sōsaku hanga). Contemporary printmaker NAGASE Yoshirō describes it as, “using the block surface as a mediator for the artists’ artistic expression.” [4] The discourse of creative printmaking carefully distinguished it from multiple prints (fukusei hanga) as a way to emphasize its character as an art as opposed to a craft. While creative printmaking artists often make multiple prints from one block, that decision is taken to be their own rather than part of a commercial system.

In the twentieth century, woodblock printing also became a major feature in political movements, most notably in Germany, Russia, Austria, Mexico, and China. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Lu Xun, a leading figure in the development of modern Chinese literature, championed woodblock printing as an art of the people and as a key tool in the revolutionary social movement. [5] In this, Lu Xun and other participants in the movement were heavily influenced by German Expressionism, particularly the work of Käthe Kollwitz. [6] In early postwar Japan (1945-1960) as well, a time that saw great social transformations and contentious political struggles, woodcut was an active field for popular cultural and political participation. Woodcut circles were one of the many hobby groups organized in workplaces or labor unions; the motifs used in these works often depicted the daily life of the people, from figurative imagery such as laborers, mother and child, family, and scenes from everyday life, to works that expressed the importance of peace, workers’ rights, and international solidarity. In Korea during the 1980’s, there was a People’s Art (minjung misul) movement that ran parallel to the movement for democracy, where woodblock prints with political messages were sometimes made right on site where protests were taking place. The work that was produced amidst these social movements was utilized in pamphlets, posters, and other mediums for the diffusion of information and for rousing emotions. Given these contexts, what is the perspective of A3BC, and what is the significance of their activities?

The Founding of A3BC

The following analysis of A3BC is based on information I have collected through participant observation and interviews. The activities of A3BC, which I detail later, can be divided into four general categories: exhibiting through open calls organized by non-governmental institutions and organizations; the production of placards, banners, and flyers, to be used for social activism; independently produced promotional material and merchandise such as calendars, zines, stickers, and t-shirts; and workshops and talk events.

Before discussing these activities in more detail I would like to introduce the sequence of events that led to the founding of the collective. Art activist UEOKA Seiji conducted several printmaking workshops prior to the group’s founding and, based on the momentum they created, officially founded the collective in August 2014. The collective operates out of the infoshop IRREGULAR RHYTHM ASYLUM (IRA) in Shinjuku, which has been run by NARITA Keisuke since 2004. Every Thursday night, the collective gathers there to make woodblock prints collaboratively. Infoshops are places where information about DIY culture and anarchism can be exchanged, and out of which the participants can form their own loose global network. [7] Each infoshop has its own field of interest, such as feminism, activism, politics and economics, anarchism, vegetarianism, and environmental issues. While connecting over common issues, each infoshop is unique in the way it operates, from the selection of books, to the publications and zines from small distributors that they distribute, to the t-shirts, stickers and other merchandise they offer. Some have libraries or cafes on their premises while many utilize their spaces to hold reading groups, meetings, and talk events, functioning as autonomous social centers for the community. On the website, Narita describes the IRA as “Keeping anarchism, art, and activism as its main themes,” providing “publications, zines, and goods related to social movements, the culture of resistance, and the DIY scene,” as well as serving “as a space for people directly involved in these movements,” and “sometimes hosting events like exhibitions, film screenings, workshops, and parties.” [8] Almost every day, people from around the world visit IRA for various reasons, in search of information and new encounters. Rather than the physical exchange of money and products, the purpose is for supporters and practitioners of DIY culture and anarchist lifestyles to gather and share their ideas and knowledge.

The stimulus that led Ueoka to begin a no-war/no-nukes-themed art collective came when TOKUNAGA Risa, who was researching the Malaysian printmaking collective Pangrok Sulap, introduced the group on IRA’s blog. Ueoka read that post, and was impressed by the group’s idea of printing woodblocks onto cloth. Until then, he had assumed that woodblock prints were printed on paper but at that moment he realized that printing on cloth meant it could be folded and easily brought to protests, opening up possibilities for woodblock printing to be used in social movements. Ueoka describes what led to the founding of A3BC as follows:

The first and second attendees in the trial woodblock workshop talked about making a collective while we were making black-and-white and color prints together. Of course, the artistic vision of the individual is important, but I had been thinking about how to create a social movement through prints in today’s Japan. I had been thinking about how we’re in Tokyo, where there’s relatively little sense of territorial identity, and there aren’t any places with a ‘local’ kind of feeling, so there is really no foundation to root oneself in. As I was thinking about these things, I hit upon ‘no-war and no-nukes,’ and since we all live in that kind of time, I thought it was appropriate. So we began with the simple name, ‘no-war/no-nukes print collective’. [9]

Implicit in this statement is Ueoka’s ongoing questioning of what art can do for or in society. Ueoka, now in his 50’s, is an art activist, but has also worked as a web designer. He left his home in rural Ehime prefecture for Tokyo in the 1980’s and, while studying block printing at Musashino Art School, was taught that “the purpose of printmaking is to execute new forms of artistic expression,” consistent with the bijutsu (fine arts) approach. While working at construction sites after graduating, however, he began to search for “a new connection between art and society, not art as a mode of personal expression.” [10]

With a keen interest in the rapid spread of the internet, he began to build a network with artists around the world, starting in 1997. He titled this network the ‘Renaissance 2001 Project.’ He contacted artists via email and suggested holding exhibitions that occurred simultaneously in various places, putting on experimental exhibitions in New York, San Francisco, and Scotland in collaboration with local artists. At that time, there was a blueprint in Ueoka’s mind for building a “way for people to gather and have international exhibitions that would starkly contrast with the World Expo.” [11] Thereafter, he learned methodologies of civic movements at Earth Day Tokyo and, inspired by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Multitude (2004) and Joseph Beuys’ Freie Internationale Universität (Free International University), he launched an autonomous cultural organization called The Free Media International University in 2008. [12] Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, aka “3.11,” he has been engaged in media activism, distributing information from the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center over social media. His practices thus bridge art, technology, and social organizing.

Narita explains that he decided to support A3BC’s activities by providing a base of activities and space for woodblock workshops because he wanted IRA to be “a place where things are created”. [13] Narita had been listening to punk music since he was a teenager, and the post-CRASS DIY punk culture of combining culture, politics, and music influenced him to open IRA in the first place, as an autonomous space where people could gather before and after demonstrations, create things together, and exchange ideas. [14]

I was influenced by CRASS and their DIY notion of making the things you want to happen happen by doing them yourself. There is a strong distrust of, and resistance to, the system of political participation provided by the authorities. I think that the urge to do things with my own two hands came from that, and was the motive that got me involved with woodblock printing and autonomous spaces and movements. At first, I was influenced by CRASS’s artwork, like their graffiti, but I’ve come to envision a practice that is not necessarily music but more of how to take action, or form different lifestyles, by distributing small publications and creating autonomous spaces. I was encouraged by the idea of creating one’s own media, and wanted to do something like that. [15]

DIY ethics infuse many of A3BC’s activities. They create and distribute banners, stickers, T-shirts, and zines to carry anti-war and anti-nuke messages, and support other DIY woodblock collectives around the world. They show a lack of interest in hierarchy and membership criteria, emphasize gender equality, and work through networks of diverse people from around the world that have been built on personal trust as well as affinities and exchanges. The DIY ethic is also reflected in their decision to use woodblock printing, a simple printing process that anyone can learn, to make their own media. Finally, they emphasize fun and energizing collective work and free talk among diverse participants. DIY operations value voluntary arguments and discussion in the spirit of sharing and learning rather than by appeal to legitimized communications or with the goal of establishing an authoritative final decision.

Participant Diversity and a Loosely-linked Collective Format

The formation of A3BC emerged out of these activities. A3BC’s art activism includes reframing woodblock printing as a relational, artistic, and political medium and using it to spread information, while its organization is meant to be open to any new participants who are interested in its activities.

Workshop and talk event information is shared publicly on the group’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website. There are about ten people who regularly attend the Thursday meetings and other events, but people often drop in to the infoshop and end up participating in a given event or activity as well. These are open to anyone who saw announcements online or who happened to visit IRA that day, regardless of age, gender, or profession. The regular attendees all live in or near Tokyo. There are slightly more female members; participants are generally in their ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The regular participants come from a diverse range of professions, among them manga artist, web developer, researcher, artist, teacher, businessperson, editor, designer, video artist, student, and musician. There are many overseas participants as well, though their participation is episodic, based on when they are in Japan. Most of the Japanese participants have not done woodblock printing since graduating from elementary school, but most were already familiar with DIY culture from organizing study groups or talk events or participating in political demonstrations.

A defining characteristic of the group is that there is little desire for hierarchy. As NANBU Hiroko, an almost weekly participant, states, “there aren’t really any core members in A3BC.”. [16] FURUKAWA Kuniko also reports that she does not perceive a fixed membership, and points out that this quality of “collaborative production by a diverse general public” makes it different from other movements that she has been involved in. [17] She goes on to state that “although A3BC is a creative activity, there is no pattern of the same person’s vision always leading the others”. [18] The collective’s debut work, The Peace Is/For the Peace is made of two prints, each one square meter in size. [Figure 1] The theme for The Peace Is, is no-nukes, and for For the Peace, no-war. In the center of The Peace Is is the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant where there was a reactor meltdown, while there is a swarm of figures in the center of For the Peace. These areas of the woodblock were carved collectively, while the smaller circles surrounding the central image were each designed and carved by a single individual. For example, Furukawa drew an image of wheat in one of the circles. “I chose the image of the wheat, which appears in the story Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen). In the beginning of the story, Gen’s father says, ‘Become strong, like the wheat stalks, which rise up no matter how many times they are trampled.’ My circle references nuclear energy which is a theme in the story of Hadashi no Gen, and also the determination to continue living with strength and not succumbing to the power of the state, which uses nuclear energy for its own agenda,” she explains. [19] As we can see, each person creates their own interpretation of the subject, allowing many perspectives and approaches to be part of the whole work.


[Figure 1. The Peace is/For the Peace (A3BC, 2014)]


[Figure 1. The Peace is/For the Peace (A3BC, 2014)]












Over the two and a half years of consistent activity since the collective began, there have usually been about ten participants at gatherings. Apart from the three common themes of being anti-war, anti-nuclear, and involved in art, each individual has the freedom to decide how they want to engage and what they want to express, regardless of differences in participation rates, technique, or level of training.

Works that Traverse Art Museums and Sites of Social Movements

A3BC creates works that make a no-war and no-nukes appeal. These works have been shown in art museums, live music venues, restaurants, exhibitions related to symposiums at universities, in front of the Diet Building, in front of U.S. military bases, and in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

Figure 2 is a work titled Okinawa chōjū giga (The Okinawa Scroll of Frolicking Animals), which was exhibited in the show “No Nukes No War Today” (2015) held at the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels. It was created originally to support and express solidarity with the activists who were participating in protests against the construction of U.S. military bases in Henoko and Takae in Okinawa prefecture. It references the famous Japanese scroll painting, chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and People), and although it is titled Okinawa chōjū giga, it sometimes goes by the name Okinawa Solidarity Banner. It is printed on a piece of cloth, 3.6m x by 0.9m, and depicts a heliport and military base being constructed in the lush environment of Okinawa’s land and ocean, leading to the destruction of its diverse ecosystem. The banner contains a humorous narrative. A fleeing monkey is dressed to suggest that he is an umizaru, or sea-monkey, a term used to refer to coast guard officers, who had been made popular in a manga and movie series of the same name. The monkey is being chased by an iconic bird called the yambarukuina (Okinawa rail), while a group of shīsā, or Okinawan lion statues that are typically placed to ward off evil, stand protecting the tent. When asked why this work was made in the form of a story, Ueoka says, “sometimes it reflects reality more faithfully.” Referring to the children depicted in MARUKI Iri and Toshi’s Hiroshima Panels, he goes on to explain, “Sometimes a story will stir up the imagination and speak to the viewer powerfully, even more than seeing actual photos of children that were burned by the atomic bomb.” [20]


[Figure 2. Okinawa Chōjū giga (A3BC, 2015)]

The Okinawa chōjū giga was sent to Henoko and Takae immediately upon completion in June 2015, and was received warmly by the people protesting there. However, on September 19th, the tent village that had formed in front of the gates to the base construction site in Henoko was attacked and destroyed by a right wing group, and the solidarity banner was slashed with a utility knife. Protest participants responded by sewing the banner back together and lifting it up once again. In the wake of this incident, A3BC members went to Okinawa in October to exchange the damaged banner for a newly printed one, and to hold a workshop. Both the work made by the citizens during that workshop and the damaged banner were exhibited in the “No Nukes No War Today 2015” exhibition held at the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in Higashi Matsuyama, which opened right after these events. There are two significant aspects to this banner as a material object. The first is that the trace of the knife, inflicted by people with opposing views from those represented by the banner, conveys to the viewer the complexity and intensity of the military base issue. The second is that it expresses the intent of people in far-away regions of Japan to stand in solidarity with people who are at the center of social movements in Okinawa. These aspects are derived from the object’s two uses—being a work exhibited in an art museum about an hour from Tokyo and a banner used in political action in Okinawa—its meaning gathers power and depth by bringing together art and activism.

Woodblock printing is particularly versatile as a medium of activism. New Ways to Renounce War was created after A3BC was invited to exhibit in the “Armed By Design” (2015) exhibit at the Interference Archive in New York [Figure 3]. This has become one of the most reproduced A3BC images: used for posters, t-shirts, placards, tote bags, and stickers. The t-shirts and stickers are especially popular among young DIY culture aficionados and the placards, which are uploaded to the internet and can be accessed to print out at convenience stores, were seen sprinkled throughout the crowd during the protests against the new security bill to expand the powers of Japan’s military in 2015. As the work changes form and reaches the hands of many people, who then raise it as an expression of their own voice, it is no longer something just to be looked at, nor the expression of someone else, but becomes the person’s own expression.


[Figure 3. New Ways to Renounce War (A3BC, 2015)]

I would like to also consider the significance of workshops, another form for A3BC’s activities, with reference to feedback from participants. A3BC has conducted workshops in diverse spaces, such as tents in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (nicknamed the “Anti-Nuclear Power Art Museum”), among protesters gathered at the gates of Camp Schwab in Henoko on Okinawa, alternative spaces in Fukuoka and Shizuoka, and event spaces at academic conferences. A male participant (a high school lecturer in his 40’s) in one workshop held at the “Anti-Nuclear Power Art Museum” provided the following feedback.

One thing that I think works is that no one gives participants a theme to follow to create their work. But if it were totally open-ended, there would be no connection to “society.” So in that sense, by holding [the workshops] at IRA or anti-nuclear power sites, the location and situation naturally support the theme and its presence. [21]

Typically, the workshops operate by allowing participants to carve whatever they want, and then print it on one big piece of cloth as each one finishes resulting in one big cloth with numerous small prints. Themes are not limited to no-war/no-nukes criticism; there are people who carve their favorite objects or animals. As the above-mentioned participant pointed out, though, the methodology of holding the workshops at sites of political action emphasizes the social or political significance of the works being created.


[Figure 4. Workshop in front of Henoko Gate in Okinawa]

In March 2016, a university student from Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts that I spoke with, who assisted at the A3BC workshop in front of Camp Schwab [Figure 4] said, “I feel alienated from the older generation and their style of linking arms and singing songs [in the traditional way of doing marches and protests].” [22] He told me that he is zealously collecting information about the history and politics of Okinawa in order to confront the issues through his art. Some of these issues include, for example, the fact that riot police from Tokyo are often sent to Henoko, and that they are more aggressive than local police and sometimes violent in moving sit-in protesters in front of the gate. No one knows all aspects of the situation. Indeed, opinions among residents of Okinawa are split regarding the construction, especially between the Henoko area and the capital, Naha. Holding workshops at different locations gives participants the opportunity to share ideas, learn social movement tactics, and hear the voices of those at the center of the struggle. For A3BC participants, the workshops are a way to experience first-hand exactly how political power works at the site of actual social movements, and they provide an opportunity to encounter raw information and opinions that are often omitted from mass media coverage of these events.

The Process of Collective Creation and its Charm

The following is the standard creative process whereby A3BC creates its large-scale, no-war/no-nukes themed works.

1. Brainstorm the entire composition.
2. Sketch the image on the woodblock.
3. Since the print will reverse the image everything needs to be carved backwards; difficult shapes like letters are carefully sketched. Large works that are over a meter may take 1-2 months to sketch. One person may take the initiative to do an area they want to draw or think they can do well, or the group may suggest someone take on some area in discussion.
4. Collectively begin carving.
5. After carving the figures, begin the background.
6. The areas that were undecided in the sketching stage begin to get clearer as things progress.
7. If there is any confusion or indecisiveness regarding what to draw or how to carve, the concerns are shared with the members that are present and resolved together.
8. Using a roller and oil-based ink, the ink is applied to the woodblock, then the block is placed on the cloth, and is printed by stepping on it as a group.

There are pieces where some parts are undertaken individually, but for the most part each step is a collective effort. There is a schedule for completing the work, but adjustments are made at the Thursday meeting when necessary to meet deadlines. Ueoka explains the importance of staying goal-oriented and maintaining a schedule this way: “Since we are dealing with big, intense social issues like no-war and no-nukes it can be mentally taxing to keep working. If we don’t set a completion schedule we might never get things finished. That’s why we work with the idea of exhibiting at scheduled events and exhibitions.” [23]

What significance do the collective creative processes have for the participants? As a participant myself, I felt a sense of accomplishment at having collectively created a woodblock print for the first time, after we finished our debut work, The Peace Is/For the Peace. In order to finish by the installation date of an exhibition, there was one time when a group of ten of us worked all night, with the energy and fervor of students on the night before a school festival. Furukawa recalls, “I might never feel the same energy again that we felt when we worked all night to finish that print.” [24] Ueoka also reports “that was the most memorable experience I’ve had in our activities so far.” [25] As other members attest, “it’s fun and interesting to make artwork with a message together,” indicating that making large-scale works as a group kindles camaraderie. [26] Stepping on the panel together for the first time, with the anticipation of seeing whether the print came out clearly, is the climax of the collective creative process. Speaking to the attractions of woodblock printing Furukawa states that, “When it is made into a woodblock print, even the most common images seem to emit a unique essence. And of course, the process of carving as a group is very important.” [27]

The makanai, or potluck meals, shared during the nightly activities are another element that the collective enjoys together. According to Nanbu, the meals began towards the end of 2015. There was a period when production was going until 11 pm every week, and the members would go to a cheap Chinese restaurant for drinks on their way home. They progressed to preparing nabe (hotpot) for themselves, which was easier both financially and time-wise. Since then, the makanai has been customary, and opened up an opportunity for visitors to prepare vegetarian food or something with a taste of their own culture. The makanai rotate on a voluntary basis, and Nanbu commends the system for its policy of “not designating the [person who cooked] as the ‘mom’ figure, making it donation-based to compensate for the ingredients expenses, and having everyone wash their own dishes.” [28] In short, it is a kind of cultural practice, where the cook contributes one additional element to the self-regulating cooperation of a DIY culture and to those who partake in the meal and share in mutual respect. This is similar to how CRASS emphasized individual autonomy in operating the Dial House, maintaining the organization under the unwritten code that members are encouraged to suggest ideas based on their strengths and preferences.

A Trans-local Network that Transcends Political Borders

As mentioned at the beginning, Ueoka began A3BC after learning about other collectives in Asia that utilized woodblock printing in their activism. One of those collectives, Tarin Padi, formed in 1998 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Then-Indonesian president Suharto’s dictatorship had collapsed, and amidst de-stabilized social circumstances, a group of young people, mainly art college students, started squatting in a school building which was due to close as part of the university’s move to a newly constructed campus. They began their activities with a pledge to “make people more engaged in social and political issues through art.” [29] Their interests covered a wide range of social issues such as anti-militarism, anti-neoliberalism, anti-globalization, laborer and farmer rights, and women’s liberation. [30] Examples of their activities include working collaboratively to create posters and murals with farmers and fishermen who were being pushed out of their neighborhood by the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant. They also created hand-made puppets to use at protests; they entered various sites of resistance or protest and joined social movements with and through their myriad visual and performative expressions.


[Figure 5. Pangrog Sulap, A3BC Board Game (2014)]

Another collective closely connected with A3BC is Pangrog Sulap, a printmaking collective formed at the end of 2009 by young people in a band who were a part of the DIY punk scene in a town called Ranau, located in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, in Sabah, Malaysia. [31] They adopted DIY as their motto, and endeavored to express the voice of the local people regarding the environment, anti-capitalism, and traditional culture through woodblock prints and music. They also got involved in building communication with local youth through activities in juvenile detention centers and schools. Through Tokunaga, mentioned above, A3BC sent Pangrog Sulap a print of the A3BC Sugoroku (A3BC board game) [Figure 5], which had previously been exhibited at the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in 2014, as a gift. The following is a message posted to their Facebook page after receiving the work.

From the foot of Mount Fuji to the foot of Mount Kinabalu
Today, Pangrog Sulap lifted the banner of A3BC, a wood block collective in Japan.
We want to honor this friendship.
Their work is amazing!
Respect for A3BC!
A3BC Sugoroku
(A traditional Japanese game using dice.) [32]

We can see from this message that sharing local issues and practices between different groups enables mutual respect for the cultural and historical context behind each group’s work.

Pangrog Sulap’s Rizo Leong also visited Japan from February to March 2016 and accompanied A3BC to Okinawa for the workshop in Henoko. It was then that Rizo began to interview the citizens there and created his own work opposing the military base. After returning to Tokyo, he collaborated with A3BC members at IRA to create DIY Worldwide Woodblock-print Movement [Figure 6]. Tarin Padi member, Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf, came to Japan in June 2016 for a solo show in the gallery. On that occasion, he held a talk event and workshop at IRA to make t-shirts using Tarin Padi woodblocks. As we can see, social practices utilizing woodblock printing as a medium are deepening friendships across borders in the DIY cultural scene in Asia. Both Tarin Padi and Pangrog Sulap have consistently remained close to the voice of people who face political crises in their local communities, and have engaged in activities for social change. In this they have much in common with A3BC.


[Figure 6. DIY-Worldwide Woodblock-print Movement (2016)]

Nevertheless, there are differences between A3BC and Tarin Padi and Pangrog Sulap. First, we can point out how the “local” appears differently. A3BC, while based in Tokyo, creates no-war/no-nukes, project-based work, with a focus on the U.S. military base controversy in Okinawa and the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. Meanwhile, Tarin Padi is engaged in a local fight for the socially, economically, and/or politically vulnerable, such as farmers, laborers, and women in the face of large-scale development. Pangrog Sulap also focuses on issues in one location, from protesting dam construction to holding workshops for youth. Therefore, the major difference is that A3BC does not work among a specific local community in which they are based. While such resistance is undoubtedly important, when it comes to the subject of no-war/no-nukes there are no boundaries between the spaces and people that would be affected by these things, rendering it a global issue for humanity. I would also suggest that for A3BC to maintain activities in Tokyo is a symbolic and effective political practice directed towards people who are indifferent to politics, to awaken their imaginations about militarism and nuclear issues. Although Tokyo is the capital city where political and financial power is concentrated, many Tokyo residents do not consider problems in Fukushima or Okinawa to be their concern.

A3BC’s activities connect with artists and activists in Western countries as well. Workshops have been held at social centers in Switzerland, Germany, and France. Social centers are a mainstay among the cultural practices of Western anarchists, using physical space as a hub of DIY politics, society, and cultural activity. It is important that it is an autonomous space, free from private or public sponsorship; it often begins with illegal occupation, or squatting, in vacant buildings. The regulations regarding squats differ by country, but there are instances where squatters negotiate an extremely low rent with the landlord and other cases where a squat becomes a legalized social center after being recognized and accepted by the local community.

Connections with Western counterparts gradually spread through the social network of IRA owner Narita, and through visitors to Japan who are involved with managing their own social centers going back and holding workshops at them. In 2015 Narita spoke at the symposium “Activism in Contemporary Japan: New Ideas, Players and Arenas?” at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and visited social centers in Switzerland and France afterwards to hold workshops. Of these workshops, Narita says, “It was very easy [to conduct the workshop] because they immediately understood how woodblock printing could be useful as a medium [for political activity].” [33] I surmise that this has to do with the fact that the people at these social centers were already involved in other kinds of DIY cultural practices, like holding meetings for political action, running soup kitchens, making silkscreen patches, and could see how easily woodcuts could be integrated.

Mirco Pizzera, who participated in A3BC in Tokyo and is conducting research on woodblock printing in Asia, is involved in operating KUZEB (Kultur Zentrum Bremgarten), where Narita held the workshop in Switzerland, and has founded a new printmaking collective with his friends called “block(A).D.E–block Art of Direct Expression.” Another participant in A3BC, German artist and punk musician Lukas Hungar held a workshop at the social center “Nantoka Bar” in Köln and an art club in Nordhausen, and continues to make woodblock prints with his friends. Woodblock printing as a medium for art activism therefore also has an appeal in Europe and we continue to see the network of printmaking collectives expand. A3BC’s work continues to move through networks of fellow activists and artists. New Ways to Renounce War was recently displayed in a vegan restaurant in Sweden and a 17-page interview of A3BC was published in the U.S. magazine “SIGNAL05.” [34]

These anarchist networks were organically formed through travel for sightseeing, touring by musicians, and through people from nearby and far away visiting infoshops or social centers. It is not only infoshops and social centers that serve as gathering points but, in Tokyo’s case for instance, many others venues, such as second-hand shops, book shops, cafés, and event spaces where people meet to talk and exchange zines, stickers, books, patches, t-shirts, and bags which they have made in each community. Face-to-face communication activates and expands relationships of trust where information and resources can spread quickly and trans-locally.


As I have examined in this paper, A3BC’s activities take place in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., as well as in Japan, and the utility of printmaking is recognized within DIY culture in all of those places. Prints and printing itself have built trust, understanding of each other’s local issues, and mutual respect among fellow collectives in Europe and Southeast Asia despite language barriers and differing cultural backgrounds. The cultural network of DIY that connects local sites in each country is not simply a transnational connection that crosses political borders, but a trans-local, region-to-region connection both inside Japan and abroad. The issues of no-war/no-nukes involve awareness and perspectives of various scales, from city, state, and region, to family. The direct action of A3BC, which revolves around a global/local axis, allows the participants to overcome the ideology of national borders which is such a deeply rooted part of contemporary life, and to understand differences within a given set of borders while standing in solidarity with people across them. One member of a small group of amateur woodblock printmakers that was active in one of Tokyo’s factory districts in the mid-1950s lists five elements that enable printmaking to function as a medium for activism: 1. The tools are simple and inexpensive. 2. Anyone can acquire the techniques, and improving is easy. 3. The object (the print) can be replicated. 4. The final work is easy to handle, and can be easily sent by mail to anywhere in the world. In other words, it is possible to have an exhibition in many locations simultaneously. 5. The beauty of it moves people. [35] The woodblock print collectives operating today understand these five elements of printmaking and take full advantage of the appeal and benefits of woodblock printing for their activism.

Additionally, while the works of A3BC are political and have been used in the context of social movements, they have also distanced themselves from specific political parties such as the Japanese Communist Party, as well as established social movements. There are times that A3BC conducts workshops at events organized by established social movement organizations or together with other DIY cultural groups. In such cases A3BC takes care of its own operations as it normally would, without ceding control to other groups or becoming involved as organizers of the whole event. A3BC covers its own travel and other expenses through the sale of merchandise, as well as small donations, and there are no sponsors. The cost of materials for workshops come out of members’ own pockets. The participants are all involved in making decisions about the work, and the style of participation is left up to each individual, with no strict rules or enforcement; to borrow CRASS’s words, A3BC assumes that “there is no authority but yourself.” These autonomous positions and approaches are what distinguish A3BC as a collective.

What became clear after consideration of my research and my own experience was that the common motive behind the various practices and activities of A3BC is the fun that is shared: the allure of woodblock printing itself as well as the fun and eventful process of working as a group, including the makanai meal gatherings, and most of all, the excitement of creating a culture of resistance by criticizing political contradictions through art. The key to understanding the organization of A3BC lies in Nanbu’s words: “Trust is not built simply because we have similar ideas. On the contrary, we recognize our similarities, but also our differences. What fills the gaps between the differences is the collaborative effort.” [36] In other words, woodblock printing becomes a communication tool, a tool to make something common, that operates among those who have differing ideas and values. During the collaborative process, participants talk with others about the theme of the work at hand as well as all sorts of other things. It is also a time when individuals can observe and learn from each other—that ongoing process is shared among participants and affects the completed artwork. The capacities of participants are diverse: one is good at sketching, one has a lot of great ideas, one has the endurance to keep carving, one is good at creating a collective mood, and each finds a role in the collaborative work.

How does this connect to politics? The most direct answer might be that the gatherings and process allow people who feel the urgency to take action in everyday life, people who seek peace and freedom, to gather together and have fun participating in a meaningful activity that celebrates those feelings. Ueoka has stated that “culture decides whether or not we must go to war,” implying that if we do not go against the current of the times, the structures that threaten the freedom and peace of the individual will continue to grow stronger. [37] Powerful companies and states are thoroughly aware of the structures of global capitalism and try to increase their profits by any means, including through nuclear power and war. Therefore, the goal of A3BC is to continue resistance against that through peaceful means, through culture, by committing to ideas and practices that nurture critique as well as mutual support and enjoyment.

Due to the nature of participant observation, my own participation should be taken into account. As a participant in A3BC, I am sympathetic to the group’s collective awareness of the issues in contemporary Japanese society. In other words, my research is conducted from a no-war/no-nukes position. However, through my participation in, and observation of, A3BC I have encountered a diverse range of opinions over many occasions, and have begun to understand that the “no-war/no-nukes” position is not monolithic, but rather, composed of a gradation of perspectives. Seeking social change through social movements with one’s own hands is something that resonates with the value emphasized in DIY culture. “Mutual aid” makes the best use of participants’ potential and everyone can intervene into political issues by cultural activity. “Respect for people in difference” is the basis for trust. Communication between diverse people sometimes causes misunderstandings, problems, or contradictions, but continuing to interact and collaborate can break the ice and allow the participants to gradually understand each other, bring out each other’s strengths, and not resort to indifference, peer pressure, or submission. “A spirit of autonomy” means taking equal responsibility in managing activities with others and this spirit drives and empowers one’s motivation for everyday life. In Japan, especially since “3.11,” the multi-layered and complex discourse surrounding issues of nuclear plants, military bases, and new security bills have come to show just how urgent it is to find approaches to ideas that go beyond the dichotomy of “for” or “against.”

Translated by IWAMA Kasumi.

• I would like to thank Ueoka Seiji, Narita Keisuke, Furukawa Kuniko, Nanbu Hiroko, MŌRI Yoshitaka and other A3BC members for their valuable insight and accounts that have supported me in this research. Thank you very much.

Kano Ai is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Musical Creativity and the Environment at Tokyo University of the Arts. She researches the relationships between art, politics and participation between 1990 to 2010 in the intersecting fields of media art/activism, art activism and socially engaged art. Kano also serves as a part-time Lecturer on the Global Career Design course at Musashino Art University. She has co-translated Ashley Mears’ “Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model” (2011) in Doing Sociology through Fashion (Yuuhikaku, 2017) and Matthew Fuller’s “Underspecified Dreams of Parts and Wholes” (2015) in 5: Designing Media Ecology, vol.4 (“5” editorial office, 2015).] More info: and


1. See Mōri, Yoshitaka. Hajimete no DiY—nan demo okane de kaeru to omou na yo! [First DiY-Don’t think everything can be bought with money!] (Tokyo: Space Shower Network, 2008). The English art collective and punk rock band Crass, formed in 1977, were an especially influential exponent of the DIY and punk aesthetic. They have operated for many years out of Dial House in the Epping Forest in Essex, England.

2. Uchida, Keiichi. “Nihon no kindai—kinsei—Nihon no hanga” [Japanese modern to early modern times—Japanese woodcut printing] in Sekai Hangashi (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 2001), p.36.

3. Kōno, Minoru. “Nihon no kindai—Meiji zenhan to hanga unō”[Japanese modern period—the first half of the Meiji period and the period of the woodcut movement]in Sekai Hangashi (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 2001), p.38.

4. Nagase, Yoshirō. Hanga o tsukuru hito e [For the people who make woodcut printing] (reprinted in Tokyo: Mutan shobō, 1993), p.15.

5. The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma. Chūgoku Mokuhanga ten―Rojinshusai kōshūkai kara kaihōsensōki made [Chinese woodcut exhibition: from Lu Xun organized workshop to the war of liberation period], exhibition catalog (The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, Tokyo: Otsuka kougeisha, 1975).

6. Tomotsune, Tsutomu. “From Chinese Muke to Japanese Hanga: Introduction to the Popular Woodblock Movement in the Post War Period of Japan,” Tokyo University of Foreign Language, Area and Culture Studies, vol.80, (July 31, 2010), pp.199-228.

7. See Slingshot, “Radical Contact List,” ( (accessed on August 29, 2017).

8. See Irregular Rhythm Asylum, ( (accessed on August 29, 2016)

9. Comment by Seiji Ueoka at the talk event “Hangabijutsu undō no genzai” [Woodblock movement now]. (February 28, 2016).

10. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.

11. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.

12. The Free Media International University invited media artists and activists, academics, and anyone else to conduct discussions, workshops and lectures. The concept was to “use the Internet, exchange free knowledge, and create new knowledge” without a degree or campus.

13. Narita, Keisuke. Interview with author, October 2, 2017.

14. Narita, Keisuke. Interview with author, October 2, 2017.

15. Narita, Keisuke. Interview with author, October 2, 2017.

16. Nanbu, Hiroko. E-Mail interview with author, July 16, 2016.

17. Furukawa, Kuniko. E-Mail interview with author, July 17, 2016.

18. Furukawa, Kuniko. E-Mail interview with author, July 17, 2016.

19. Furukawa, Kuniko. E-Mail interview with author, July 17, 2016.

20. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.

21. E-mail interview with author, March 21, 2016.

22. Interview with author, March 1, 2016.

23. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.

24. Furukawa, Kuniko. E-Mail interview with author, July 17, 2016.

25. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.

26. Interview with author, July 16, 2016.

27. Furukawa, Kuniko. E-Mail interview with author, July 17, 2016.

28. Nanbu, Hiroko. E-Mail interview with author, July 16, 2016.

29. Dolorosa Sinaga, “Taring Padi: Not for the sake of a Fine Arts Discourse”, in Taring Padi, Art Smashing Tyranny (Yogyakarta: Lumbung Press, 2011), p.23.

30. Alexander Supartono, Taring Padi, Art Smashing Tyranny, (Yogyakarta: Lumbung Press, 2011), p.7.

31. Tokunaga, Risa. “From DIY to Do It TogetherーIndependent Art Spaces and Art Collectives” [DIY kara kyōdō e— dokuritsu-kei no ātosupēsu to āto korekutibu], 5 Designing Media Ecology, vol.5 (June 16, 2016), pp.64-65.

32. A message from Pangrok Sulap to A3BC on Facebook (January 26, 2015), translated by Yamashita Tsuguta.

33. Narita, Keisuke. “Report on workshops touring the Europe” [Yōroppa junkai wākushoppu hōkoku] at the talk event: “Disobedience movement and woodcut” at the Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels on December 6, 2015. on August 29, 2017)

34. Alec Dunn, “Three Print Collectives” in Alec Dunn and Josh MacPhee, eds., SIGNAL:05 (California: PM Books, 2016), pp.30-47.

35. Justin Jesty, “Hanga to hanga undō [Woodcut and the woodcut movement] .” In “Sengo minshū seishinshi [People’s spirit in the postwar era].” Special issue, Gendai Shisō [Contemporary Thought] 35, no. 17 (December 2007), p.152.

36. Nanbu, Hiroko. E-Mail interview with author, July 16, 2016.

37. Ueoka, Seiji. Interview with author, August 3, 2016.