In today’s age of fast fashion, few people ever stop to think about where the fabrics that we wear originate.
Active during the post-war period of Japan’s rapid economic growth, Arai and Masuyama began to harbor doubts about the way society pursued increasing “efficiency.” Seeking to return to the roots of the craft, they traveled to regions around the world in which primitive artisan traditions still survived. In Indonesia, they discovered batik (a form of wax resist dyeing) and ikat (a form of tie-dyeing) techniques that date back hundreds of years.
These traditional methods, slowly disappearing from modern society, involve, in the case of ikat, binding individual yarns and then tying them together. The fabrics are dyed with natural knotweed (indigo) and madder growing on the island, and the dyed yarns are then rinsed using the powder of ground nuts. A splash pattern is then woven using a backstrap loom. To produce these fabrics, artisans must first wait for the plants in the fields and forests to bear fruit. For batik, which uses wax in the dyeing process, high concentration is required as each piece is dyed by hand. And only a limited amount can be produced per day, making it a time-consuming effort that requires patience.
This “inefficient,” primitive production process yields creativity and a vitality shared by the people living there. The duo realized that the process of creating artwork is closely tied to the way people live in tandem with their local region and the culture passed down there. They developed a strong interest in using artistic creation to convey the values inherent in specific cultures and share a spirit of serenity with the viewer. Furthermore, as foreign artists adopting these traditional techniques in their craft, they hope to contribute to the economies of developing countries and to the preservation of their traditional heritage.
“The wave of modern efficiency is reaching the shores of the various islands that welcomed us with open arms and taught us so much,” says Masuyama. “By having us, as foreign artists, adopt these traditional methods, we can get islanders there to rethink their worth and perhaps do our part to protect the local culture and customs.”
The exhibit features a range of works that are a testament to that passion. In New York, sustainability is a growing hot topic. We look forward to seeing how the artists’ work resonates with locals.
About the Artists
Ken Arai and Kiyo Masuyama met while students at Tokyo University of the Arts, and were married in 1967. Mutually stimulating each other’s creativity, with Arai pursuing dyeing and Masuyama pursuing textile forms, the duo has continued to produce work into the present.
For many years, Arai was a lecturer in the textile design research department of Joshibi University of Art and Design, training the next generation of artists. He retired in 2003 and continues to produce works that make dynamic use of space. Since the 1990s, he has produced batik art (a traditional form of wax-resist textile from Indonesia) in Bali and Japan.
Masuyama has been active as a modern ikat artist, while also conducting research in the 1980s into contemporary craft and Art Nouveau in Europe and in the 1990s into primitive textile culture found in Indonesia and the tribes of West Africa. In 2012, Masuyama donated her personal collection of 220 ikat and other precious fabric pieces to the Sato Memorial Art Museum, Toyama. Collectively, these items comprise the Masuyama Collection and are in the permanent collection of the museum. She received the Order of Culture in 2012.