Yayoi Kusama vs. Japanese Shokunin

Recently, I've been into watching shows from the NHK, which is the Japanese national television. Actually, the only Japanese channel that I can watch from Beijing is the NHK, because unlike many Japanese people living in Beijing, I don't have the cable television at home so I cannot watch any popular channels like Nittere or Fuji.

So I didn't become that interested in watching Japanese shows on NHK until recently when I realized those shows on the national channel is actually pretty interesting. Yesterday, I watched a documentary about the artist Yayoi Kusama and how she works in her atelier in Tokyo. This particular episode was about her collaborating with traditional Japanese Ukiyoe Hanga shokunin group. 

Ukiyoe Hanga is traditional Japanese woodblock prints. The art requires very technical skill and years of training so there are only so many shokunin artists (technical artists) in Japan who can produce the traditional Ukiyoe Hanga. 

Image from Google

Image from Google


In the documentary, Kusama asked the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints, one of the only major groups of Shokunin who specialize in creating this art of woodcut prints. Kusama brought in few of her original Acrylic paintings and asked the shokunin to recreate her work in traditional styled woodcut prints and make something "even better" than the original pieces. 

To shokunins, it is extremely challenging to create something "even better" than the original artworks because their jobs is solely focused on the technical part of creating artworks. Their jobs are to be as precise as possible in transforming pictures into woodcut prints. However, Kusama asked the company to be creative and creates something unique that represents both the Kusama's avant garde  and the Ukiyoe hanga technique that is all about preserving the tradition. 

It was interesting to see the older shokunin artists struggling with the idea of transforming and using the Ukiyoe technique to create something new. While the younger shokunins who just finished their years of training are more flexible and adoptable to Kusama's creativity, the older ones tend to be more stubborn and resistant to change. There were some conflicts within the company, but in the end, the shokunin artists were able to surprise Kusama and go beyond the expectation of what she originally asked for. 

I wish the documentary was available to watch online so I could show to my art teacher!