In an exhibition organized in collaboration between The National Art Center, Tokyo and Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland, the largest to-date solo exhibition of work by Germany-based internationally-acclaimed artist Leiko Ikemura is happening now.
Ikemura was born in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, and spent her youth in the politically tumultuous 1960s. She majored in Spanish at Osaka University of Foreign Studies. In 1973, she travelled to Spain alone, learning the basics of academic art at University of Seville. Since then, she has lived in Switzerland and Germany, getting high acclaim from the contemporary art world for many years.
“Just as a lion separated from the herd will always sleep and hunt alone, I have always fought alone.”
As she once said in an interview, Ikemura has built her own world with her artwork, leaving behind a language every time she moved, and using new languages in facing the robust societies of Europe. She resisted using exoticism to her advantage as an Asian, and instead ambitiously pursued the high road as a carrier of legitimate art history.
Ikemura’s first solo exhibition at an art museum in Japan was in 2011, and since then over seven years have passed. I spoke to her about her life spent in tireless pursuit of creation.
“The solo exhibition in 2011 was an important one that allowed me to become conscious of my relationships with people, and reflect on my own life. This time, I am looking at the world with an even broader perspective. I hope that people will read the messages I have hidden in my work, like how the girls I often draw have grown through struggle. I want to feel rather than judge, and understand with poetry rather than PC (political correctness) in response to current-day political and social problems.”
The exhibition is made up of a collection of sixteen installations that show Ikemura’s multifaceted creative activities. The huge exhibition space was composed by architect Philipp von Matt, and it was designed to be more than simple separate thematic blocks, and instead to have the spaces connect and intermingle with one another. Viewers are not limited to a single route, but are able to move from one space to the next, standing and looking as they go. They might take a break in the large exhibition room that functions as a sort of central square, then freely scatter in whatever direction they like. This seems to be a metaphor for the free movement of people, economy, and culture that was the ideal society (that the EU once aimed to achieve).
“Although I am based in Europe, I’m always thinking about Eastern philosophy. That’s where there is no beginning and no end, where death connects to rebirth, and there is a world view and sense of history that is based on cycles, not conflict. At this exhibition, I wanted to create a space that was smoothly connected, where people could broaden their perspective. I felt that to do so was part of the way my art is represented. I wanted to aim for a space where people are not looking passively but where they can breathe together with the work.”
This exhibition space of magnificent scale contains all the series she has worked on to date, and the way that visitors can walk through the exhibit however they please, with vivid colors changing as they go, gives a feeling of a mature poetic quality that fills the space to its corners.
Drawings from her Neo-Expressionist period have strong lines and a sharp and intense self-awareness. Paintings and sculptures of ghost-like young girls with vague outlines appear from the shadows. Poems with a free and rich linguistic sense written by Ikemura herself are scattered throughout.
Of special note is the installation made up of accumulated terra cotta and ceramic pieces that she has been working on since the 1980s. People, animals, and imaginary creatures, standing together in large numbers in their raw and innocent states, appearing like earthen figures excavated from an ancient ruin.
Born in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture in 1951. The artist currently resides in Germany. After dropping out of the Spanish Language program at Osaka University of Foreign Language Studies, she entered the University of Seville Faculty of Fine Arts in Spain, where she majored in Fine Art. Next she lived in Zurich, Switzerland, then Nuremburg, before basing herself in Berlin and Cologne from the late 1980s onward. She works in a diverse range of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, printmaking, photography, and more. She has a lot of female fans who feel a connection with her social sentiments and the motifs she uses (such as small animals, natural-looking girls, mothers with children, mystical landscapes, and more).
Leiko Ikemura Our Planet – Earth & Stars
Date: January 18 (Friday) to April 1 (Monday) 2019
Closed on Tuesdays
Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo – Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
Address: 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 10:00am – 6:00pm (open until 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Admission: General 1,000 yen / University Students 500 yen / Children Free