Pengkuei Ben Huang: Coastal Mammoth

The 2011 tsunami caused an unprecedented amount of damage, chaos and grief. Everyone in Japan was affected in one way or another. The Japanese government soon began to erect a gigantic wall at the cost of billions in the northeast region of the country after the earthquake that caused the tsunami.

© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth
© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth

Although the benefits of such a wall are more than obvious — it would break off a future tsunami and it would ideally prevent it from causing such mayhem — it is not as clear-cut as it seems. The locals are feeling anxious as the wall isolates them, it prevents them from seeing directly what’s going on in the sea. Not only this but in order to build the wall some of the wetland that already exists along the coast has to be built upon even though it provides fertile ground for birds and marine species.

Ben Huang has documented this transformation in his peaceful and serene body of work Coastal Mammoth. At first, it’s unclear to identify what the viewer is looking at. There are cranes and it’s clearly a construction site but it’s easy to be lulled by the clear skies, green forests and water.

© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth
© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth

It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that there’s a concrete structure that appears in all the photographs, clearly the main subject of the project. We begin to wonder what it is. There are towers and wires and it’s clearly a gigantic project. When we read the photographer’s statement it hits us — it’s Japan, once devastated by the disaster in 2011, and this is the wall that is designed to prevent this from ever happening again. But will it work? Only time will tell but the government had to do something, it couldn’t have sat on its hand and not made immense changes.

© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth
© Pengkuei Ben Huang | Coastal Mammoth

As Huang mentions, the locals aren’t too pleased with the wall because it makes them feel like fish in a fish tank — trapped where they reside, surrounded by barriers, unable to see the outside.

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