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[Vol.69] From Hokusai to Ma

The 22nd EU-Japan Fest European Capital of Culture Umea “From Hokusai to Ma”

Eva Johansson

Always on a Sunday

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With Japanese artist in Kyoto

Maybe the root of our cultural exchange project Japan – Sweden started already fifty years ago? By then, in a school in the very north of Sweden, a young girl, Anita Midbjer, was awarded for her talent in drawing. The prize was a book of Hokusai! Anita described to us, her friends in the art group Always on a Sunday how she opened the book and was overwhelmed by the delicate lines and spaces that formed foreign scenes. How the pictures awoke curiosity, imagination and respect – feelings that have lasted!

Always on a Sunday is an art association in Umeå, Sweden, consisting of women of various professional careers. We are artists, therapists, teachers, university lecturers and physicians ? all united in a deep interest for arts and craft. Since twenty years we meet ? always on Sundays – to inspire each other, produce art together, do artistic excursions, and build cultural networks. During 2014, we decided to focus on Japanese art, old and contemporary, to get inspiration in our artistic activities. To catch our wide span of interest we named the project From Hokusai to Manga.

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a little yukata workshop

The overall aims have been to search and share cultural impressions and expressions of Japan, and to establish sustainable contacts with artists in Japan.To realize these goals we have made literature and art studies, a research journey in Japan, and performed woodcut and printing events in our association. The results of our attempts have been presented in public lectures and exhibitions. We have also invited and hosted six Japanese artists in Sweden; Ikuko Matsuo, Akiko Hida, Kaori Fushikino, Ryoko Fujii, Azusa Iio, and Sawako Tanizawa. Jointly they gave a workshop and an exhibition in Umeå.

Firstly, we studied the old Masters of ukiyo-e, for example Katsushika Hokusai, Ando Hiroshige, and Kitagawa Utamaro. We thereby got more insights in the very sophisticated art that flourished during the Edo period. In our background studies we understood that when Japanese harbors opened up for trade in the middle of the 19th century there was an immense fascination for Japanese woodprints in Europe. We have explored and given lectures on this so-calledjaponisme in Europe and the impact of Japanese art on European Impressionism and Art Nouveau. At several locations – Umeå Art School, Pechakucha Night, Umeå Art Association, Grubbebiblioteket, and Bokcafé Pilgatan – we have talked rapturously about this historical culture conception. The titles of our lectures are: Ukioy-e and the Edo period in Japan and Japonisme in Europe during the late 19th century. (Pictures are attached)

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After the workshop

Then, in March 30 to April 13, during the Sakura, five members of our association, Anita Midbjer, Ann-Mari Simonsson, Else Bengtsson, Karin Lundman Rehn, and Eva Johansson fulfilled a fantastic journey in Japan. The first week in Kyoto was inspiring, under blooming cherry trees, in moss gardens, bamboo forests, rich museums, and impressive temples and shrines. In Kyoto, we also had the chance to visit Kyoto City University of Arts, where Ikuko Matsuo, her sister Norie, and their artist friends guided us. They took us to the oldest artist’s shop in Kyoto where we could explore and buy materials such as washi, cherry woodblocks, cutting tools, and pigments.

The peak of our first week in Japan was a party in Osaka, at atelier LOGHOUSE of Professor Tamayo Hashimoto and her niece Ikuko Matsuo’s family. The warm hospitality of the family and their gathering of artists gave us possibilities to build interesting and friendly relationships. Here we met contemporary artists in painting, jewelry, textile, and paper cuts, and were confronted with the concept of Ma. (Pictures are attached)

Moreover, we made an excursion to Shigaraki to meet the Master of Fire, Kanzaki Shiho, a ceramic artist still using the method of burning the pots in an anagama oven. This experience has been presented in a public lecture in Umeå; Traditional Japanese Ceramics by Ann-Mari Simonsson.

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Lotus flower wood cut on board by Anita

We spent our second week in Tokyo after a ride with the shinkansen from Kyoto. Among all the adventures there, a contemporary artist and researcher Maki Umehara took us around to museums and contemporary galleries. We also had the chance to visit the Swedish Embassy, invited by Mrs. Eva Vargö, the wife of the Swedish ambassador, and the opening of a Swedish textile exhibition Fika.

From our new acquaintances, six Japanese artists have visited us for cultural exchange during one week in Umeå 10-18 October. We arranged guided tours at Umeå Art Campus, to the Departments of Fine Arts, Design and Architecture. We visited museums and made excursions to artists in the countryside. Our Japanese friends presented a joint exhibition ‘MA’, containing jewelry, textile, and ceramics. They also gave an appreciated workshop where all the participants created ‘A little yukata’. (Pictures are attached)

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Manga drawing at Littfest

We, in Always on a Sunday, are still beginners in wood cutting, but we have deepened our knowledge and practiced wood cutting and printing techniques during this year. We have shared our experiences in various workshops. Our art works have been exhibited in two exhibitions in public arenas in Umeå, Grubbebiblioteket 29 Sep. – 25 Oct. and Bokcafé Pilgatan 28 Oct. – 30 Nov. (see pictures)

Thanks to the kind support From EU Japan Fest we have had the opportunity to an exchange between Japan and Sweden, a generous exchange in art, social relations, manners and thinking. A wholeness that makes us interested in renaming the project to From Hokusai to Ma. We trust the importance of Ma as “the emptiness full of possibilities”. Now, when our guests have left us, we miss them and they have left permanent influences!

We are thankful for our experiences and our new network. Our minds are full of Japanese inspired creativity. Our homes and hearts are open for further collaboration and exchange with Japan.

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