Thursday, May 5, 2011

Inspired by Japan--Sketches

The Baren, an internet-based, international group of woodblock artists is sponsoring a benefit exchange of prints to benefit the Aid efforts following Japan's recent devastating earthquake, Tsunami and radiation disaster.
It is a themed exchange, titled "inspired by Japan" and the artists who have volunteered will print 31 copies to be exhibited and then, sold with all proceeds to benefit relief efforts.

My first idea was to depict a "Mofuku", the all black, mourning kimono of Japanese funeral rites. I had hoped to print a dark blue ground-to represent the water and the shadow cast of the kimono would be in the shape of the initial seismograph reading recorded off Sendai on that terrible morning.
It was to be dedicated to all those who lost their entire families and have no one left to mourn them.

But I've been a little uneasy.
I've been scouring the web and internet sites devoted to Japanese culture, Kimono styles and traditions, and specifically sites selling used and vintage kimonos to the west.
All have emphasized that the Mofuku, an all-black kimono with 5 undyed family crests is only to be worn by close relatives of the deceased and several sites
stated that they could not even show samples of Mofuku due to the sensitive nature of their use.
Since, my print would make the display of such a seemingly sensitive object not only visible but the subject and focus I have been hesitant to begin carving.

I showed some images of my sketches to my cousin's Japanese wife and she very graciously but pointedly confirmed my suspicions that while this would pose No issues to a Western audience, such a direct approach would make many Japanese uneasy. (As it did her).

So now I don't know what to do. I have several other sketches--some more or less complicated that I need to revisit and decide soon if I can make them work.
I would not normally be worried about appropriating ideas and images for my own work and purposes but in this context, a Benefit donation, it feels like I can not simply ignore such sentiment.

Kimono: Furisode/Tomesode? Sketch B
Fortunately, the traditions of kimono are fairly strict.
If the kimono doesn't have the 5 mon (crests) or has any other decoration, it is NOT considered Mofuku. But it then loses the connotations I was after about the terrible loss of life and consequent national mourning and international sadness.

Below was yesterday's sketch; done as Sami had Karate practice and I sat in the local coffeehouse with my sketchbook. Sort of a Japanese screen with an implacable wave. Perhaps a bit overdone/overwritten but it could be at least much more subtle and beautiful if printed well.

The Implacable Wave (sketch C)


  1. I would err on the side of caution and respect the culture.

  2. Art is often provocative, but I agree with your friend that it might make the Japanese audience uncomfortable, and that would defeat the purpose. I don't see why another kimono can't be used tho. Kimono are iconic images and would convey much of what you intended. I really like the concept.

  3. Hi Andrew - I agree with Ellen -actually was also going to suggest another kimono as it is something very representative of Japan - I would imagine anything to do with water/waves is rather sensitive, too -for myself I'm thinking along the lines of a'tea'still life..

  4. I encountered some of the same "too direct" feedback on my tsunami print fundraiser but then I raised $370 for the tsunami relief in print sales. I would make the best art you can. Make something meaningful and don't try and fret too much about how it will be received.

    I think a funeral kimono is appropriate. Is the problem that you are a foreigner? Trying to understand Japanese traditions?