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Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People

Room 7 Overview

Today, as Ainu men and women revitalize their traditions and reestablish their language, Ainu artists are expanding the range and dept of their culture. These new works rest on inherited values but advance into innovative mastery of traditional and non-traditional media. As Ainu artists draw together themes of Ainu spirituality and evolving cultural identity, they epitomize the enduring strengths of the Ainu people.

Opening credits:

Bikky Sunazawa
Hokkaido Otoineppu Village Office

Kamuy: Spirit of the Ainu
Noriko Kawamura

(2) Room QTVRS

(2) Object QTVR's

1. Sea Otter
Takeki Fujito, one of the finest modern Ainu artists, calls himself kumahori ("bear carver") and prides himself on his naturalistic renditions of bears and other animals. Although as hunters the Ainu were astute as observers of nature, they did not make representations of animals, except in certain ritual contexts, until the twentieth century, when the production of tourist art became necessary for economic survival.

Takeki Fujito Collection

2. Gozen sanji no gangu (Toys at 3 A.M.), 1987
Mysterious insectlike creatures were often described in Bikky's 1976 book of prose and poetry, Aoi sakyu nite (in the blue sand dunes), which was based on his dreams from 1964 to 1973. He created a series of sculptures from these themes, like this dragonfly-like creature.

Bikky Sunazawa, 1987
Hokkaido Otoineppu Village Office

(4) Objects w/captions STILLS

1. Juka (Wooden Flower)
The form of the works in this series was inspired by inaw, the tufted-wood sticks that traditionally mark places of Ainu ritual. It was Bikky's intention that viewers participate in the creation of these wooden flowers by arranging the sculptured willow branches as they chose.

Bikky Sunazawa, 1989
Hokkaido Otoineppu Village Office

2. Kamuy: Spirit of the Ainu
This artwork was made in 1998 as a dedication piece for the Ainu exhibition by Ainu textile artist, Noriko Kawamura. After she learned traditional robe design from her mother and other elder women, Noriko confronted the proverbial "artistic wall,"feeling powerless to change what she felt were nearly perfect traditional clothing designs. As she struggled to discover her own style, she happened to see a different type of textile art done by Peramonkoro Sunazawa (1897-1971), who was Bikky Sunazawa's mother and is one of the most respected textile artists of the twentieth century. Inspired by Peramonkoro's work, Noriko created a new style to express her ideas ideas in ways that traditional gowns could not and brought Ainu textile art to a new level of artistic achievement.

"Kamuy: Spirit of the Ainu" demonstrates the creativity seen in many works in this exhibition that combine both traditional and bold new elements and embody the hopes and aspirations of the Ainu people.

Photograph by Don Hurlbert

3. Kami no shita (Tongue of God), 1980

In this massive work Bikky sought to express the presence and power of gods in the lives of Ainu people. Its inspiration may have come from the parunpe, a triangular mark cut into the end of the ikupasuy, which conveyed a man's prayers to the gods. The precision of Bikky's chisel cuts across the face of the large-scale piece gives its surface an undulating sheen that invites touching, something the artist encouraged but which unfortunately violates contemporary museum rules.

Bikky Sunazawa
Hokkaido Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo

(5) Videos

1. Commentary on Flower by Curator William Fitzhugh

"Bikky Sunazawa was a magnificient artist. He died about ten years ago. But he really transformed the conception of traditional Ainu art which was mostly handicrafts and carved bears. But when Bikky came along he infused it with a new power, the power of modern fine art. This wooden flower is an example of that kind of art and it was something that he did because he wanted to involve the public and viewers with his art. His idea was that this piece would not be seen this way except during the end of the day. In the early part of the day people would come to the museum and they would find these willow sticks down on the floor at the base of the tree with no barricades. The children were supposed to pick them up and to piece them into the tree one by one and as the day went on the flower grew and took form into this beautiful shape".

2. Commentary on "Toys at 3:00 A.M." by Curator Chisato Dubreuil

"This piece is called "Toys at 3:00 A.M." done by Bikky Sunazawa who is a very important contemporary artist. He really, kind of, lived the typical artist life and he usually slept in the daytime and got up in the afternoon, late afternoon and he started working, actually working around 11:00 in the night and then created 3:00 pieces like this. Nighttime was a very important time for his creations because I think he had complete private time. He was a very out-going person, he loved people, drinking, he loved drinking, and everything, but when he created a piece, created art, he wanted to have his own space and time".

3. Commentary on "Tongue of God" by Curator William Fitzhugh

"This room is the final room in the exhibit and it deals with the rebirth of Ainu art and culture as seen primarily through sculpture and textile materials. After emerging from a very difficult economic situation in Japan for the last century or so, the Ainu are now emerging as major fine artists and producing beautiful textile work and masterful carving such as this Tongue of God sculpture by Bikky Sunazawa. This is a monumental piece very much in the kind of style of the northwest coast which influenced Bikky very much. It is adzed out of a piece of oak, a huge oak tree. It represents the tiny little "v" that is seen on the prayerstick or ikupasuy and here Bikky has blown it up into what he considers to be the "Tongue of God."

4. Commentary on Tapestry by Curator Chisato Dubreuil

"This piece's title is "Kamuy: Spirit of the Ainu" done by an Ainu contemporary artist whose name is Noriko Kawamura. This piece was made for this show. I think [one] important thing about this Ainu exhibition is that it includes contemporary Ainu voices. Putting [in] contemporary Ainu sustains our culture and I think it's important that our voices be heard."

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