Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cultural Borrowing

I occasionally get asked why I so often use Japanese iconography in my work. As a white girl of mixed (but almost entirely European) heritage, why is it that I'm drawn to the art of a culture that's not my own? Is it curiousity, fascination, or something deeper than that? Growing up in Canada, we are taught that we belong to a country that is a multicultural "mosaic". It sounds pretty, and if you live in or visit a large city in Canada, you have the opportunity to see the mosaic. Growing up in northern Saskatchewan, however, this mosaic is much more monocromatic. I wanted to see something else. It could have been India, or Thailand, or Brazil or Zimbabwe. I have romantic ideas about all of these places. But nothing approached the sort of crush I had on Japan.


First off: photographic proof that I lived in Japan. My friend and student Masayo once taught me how to behave at a tea ceremony, dressed me in a kimono and took me out for some world class matcha and mochi and we listened to some koto music. There was a beautiful garden and plum blossoms and ladies wearing kimonos and my eyes grew accustomed to the things I saw when I was there.

I spent one year in Japan, and soon afterward, I flew away to art school to learn about metalsmithing and jewellery. The girl at the bench beside me was
a hippie who designed much of her work around tribal Maori iconography. The guy behind me was a Haida indian who used his culture as inspiration for his beautiful jewellery. Behind him, a girl from Hong Kong who designed a gorgeous miniature wedding carriage using Chinese characters. I realized that everyone has their muse. It might be a current fascination or a deep cultural well of inspiration. But we've all got something that gets us.

As for me, Japan kept popping up in my designs, someti
mes sublty, sometimes in a more overt way. It's rarely a conscious design decision - I just sit down to practice a technique like cloisonne, and the floral motif that I choose consists of things I saw on kimono fabric or on a fabulous package of chiyogami paper:

It's just an aesthetic that I find pleasing to my eye! I wonder where I should travel next and how the wealth of another culture's arts and traditions will shape me artistically. Perhaps I should just spin my globe and see where it stops...

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