Somewhere Near Japan: art as an expression of my cultural identity

I have been studying Fine Art and History of Art at university for two years now. I had a preconception that during this time I’d be producing work non-stop. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Being confused about my British and Japanese heritage, I couldn’t seem to find a visual language to depict my feelings of displacement. I ended up focusing on an important experience I had had in Japan with my mother in Hiroshima in the summer of 2016. I had learnt in school about the horrors of the atomic bomb and the harrowing events of August 6th 1945 but had never actually visited. My mum had a business trip and decided to take me with her. We spent the day at the Peace Memorial Museum where I had been drawn to a glass cabinet containing the tiniest paper cranes. It was the beauty of the objects, these fragile forms crafted from folded paper, that touched me. I then learnt the story of Sadako Sasaki and the thousand paper cranes. She was two when the bomb was dropped, and nine years later the effects of radiation began to show. Whilst in hospital she heard an old myth that promised the maker of a thousand paper cranes a wish. Sasaki then embarked on this challenging affair, hoping it would aid her recovery but unfortunately she never finished.

Whilst racking my brain for ideas at my studio desk I found myself fiddling with paper and folding them into cranes. I realised that I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. As more and more cranes seemed to emerge on my desk I began to draw them. For my second year exhibition I decided I was going to fold and draw as many cranes as I could in an attempt to finish what Sasaki did not complete. Influenced by traditional Japanese ukiyo-e handscrolls, I decided to do my drawing on roll of brown parchment. I displayed my folded paper cranes below. On the side of the installation, I attached origami paper and invited visitors to create more cranes with me. It was a beautiful experience speaking to friends, answering their questions about Japan and allowing them to partake in origami.

I soon realised that part of the confusion about my identity stemmed from the fact that I had been born and raised in the UK, and despite England feeling like home, it was also an alien environment where I didn’t quite fit. I then decided to take a year out from uni to work in Tokyo. I have now settled into Tokyo life, interning at the fashion magazine NYLON, which has been so beneficial for my development. But the days are full on and so I find it difficult to set aside time for making work.

However, I have embarked on a new creative outlet following my 20th birthday where my father bought me a 1984 Canon A1. For the past couple of months, it has come everywhere with me. I take photos of fleeting moments that seem to encapsulate the Japan that I am currently experiencing. The majority of them are street photographs, but I am already planning shoots in the future that will be more concept driven.

I have feared in the past that my artwork would not portray the Japanese part of my identity in the way I wanted but recently I have realised how ludicrous this notion is. My dual heritage affects all I do, including making art, even if it is subconscious. It is not something I have to show, more it is something that radiates through my practice. It affects my technique, philosophy, concept and aesthetic.

I am fascinated by the space between binaries, specifically East and West, past and present: the no-man’s land that I feel I constantly inhabit. I hope to portray these sentiments through my work.

Words and images by Tatyana Rutherston

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