One of my favourite topics I always seem to circle back to here is about using a traditional technique in a contemporary context. I’m fascinated and often opinionated about how we define tradition, how we honour a tradition whilst cultivating it and what effect that has on making artwork.

About 2 years ago I was invited to be part of an upcoming exhibition at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA in the United States. The show is called “Katazome Today – Migrations of a Japanese Art” and features seven international artists who all use and interpret katazome in their current practice.

The below is from co-curators Seiko A. Purdue, Professor in Fibers/Fabrics at Western Washington University and Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum.

“Katazome Today presents contemporary visions of a unique and historically significant Japanese textile-dyeing process. Traditionally used for kimono dyeing, katazome involves the application of a rice-paste resist using special stencil papers with complex designs. Both the techniques of katazome, and those of the intricately hand carved stencil papers (katagami), have been passed down through generations of artisans over several centuries…

Artists featured include Akemi Cohn (Illinois), Melinda Heal (Australia), Fumiyo Imafuku (Japan), Cheryl Lawrence (Washington), John Marshall (California), Yuken Teruya (Germany), and Mika Toba (Japan).

[These artists] present a range of pictorial imagery, and non-traditional expressions such as large-scale installations and free-form painting techniques, relating katazome to themes of personal identity, shifting environments, and the globalization impacting the cultural landscapes of their home countries. The works preserve an endangered traditional technique while envisioning endless possibilities for dynamic cultural exchange.”

When I was invited to participate, I was really glad as I’m always interested in seeing other artists interpreting tradition and applying their own cultural context to technique-based arts. It was also wonderful to be included amongst such well-known artists in the textile sphere.

To give some context to my feeling of being amongst katazome royalty, I wrote an essay on bingata works by Yuken Teruya during my undergraduate degree studying contemporary Asian art. John Marshall’s many resoucres online helped me continue my katazome work back in Australia after my studies in Kyoto where my supervising Professor was Toba Mika. It’s a small world, as they say.

I was grateful to receive funding from artsACT (ACT Government) both for the creation of new works for this exhibition and to travel over for the opening coming up in February. I would not have been able to attempt works on this scale or complexity without this assistance. I am also indebted to friends and family who rallied behind me as “Team Katazome – Southern Hemisphere”. My good friend Amy Kerr-Menz who also studied katazome in Kyoto was a tireless assistant and I feel lucky to have an expert in the technique so close by!

Representing Australia in Katazome

For this exhibition, I wanted to create work that represents Australia – not in a stereotypical way but in the sense that only I could have made it. For the show, I have made 3 works: 2 in textiles and 1 series of works on paper. Across all three, I have continued my interest in native plants/weeds, birds and dynamic composition.

I want to wait until the opening to fully reveal the fruits of my labour – which spanned a large part of our pandemic/lockdown life here over the past 2 years. But here’s some teasers.

I will be headed to Bellingham for the opening of the exhibition on February 10. It will be worth it just to see the biggest work in person, hanging from the ceiling. Due to the sheer size of it, I simply haven’t been able to see it all as one work yet – not on the lounge room floor, not in the garage, not even in the photographer’s agricultural scale garage. I’m also excited to see the other artist’s works and learn more about their approach the same techniques.

Stay tuned!!

My new works for this exhibition has been supported by project funding from artsACT