The name of the piece is ‘Standing bed’. A bare steel bed on a platform with two straight handles jutting out on either side. The bed tells the story of a young soldier put on night guard during WW II. “I was very young and sleepy, there was a wooden wall close by and I leaned against it, drifting in and out of sleep” says 80-year-old Saburo Muraoka.
Muraoka’s artwork is part of Vanishing Point:Contemporary Japanese Art, an exhibition of the works by 10 Japanese artists at The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in association with the Japan Foundation.
The upright bed is a motif that Muraoka associates with Japan even today as he feels that the country may have changed on the surface but still sleep does not come easy. “After 62 years, Japan is still restless. The core has not changed since the war, it’s still the same disjointed sleep” he adds. He draws a parallel to India, which he feels has developed as seen in the hundreds of skyscrapers, but is sad to realize that the shackles of the caste system still exists
“India is developing very fast like Japan 30 years ago. My art is dedicated to Indian culture and its people. They have to remember their traditions in this fast-paced world,” says Masanori Sukenari. Sukenari came to India 27 years ago for the first time and was inspired by the big, colourful shamiana tents—reflected in his works as big, colourful balloons.
“Japan is a country similar to ours with a rich artistic tradition. As in India, they are also facing the problem of keeping up with the times while maintaining their traditions” says Rajeev Lochan, director of the NGMA.
Sukenari and Muraoka have visited India and know of the problems that lie beneath the surface, but for artists like Mitsuko Miwa and Koganezawa, this is a novel experience. “Indian art is very popular, but I’ve only seen it on the Internet and in books” says Miwa, who looks forward to being able to meet Indian artists on this visit. Koganezawa is one step ahead with a residency at Khoj, an artists’ camp in Delhi at the end of October and another exhibition in Mumbai in November.
The exhibition also showcases works by the late Atsuko Tanaka, who revolutionized Japanese art as part of the Gutai avant-garde movement. Her ‘electrical dress’ was acclaimed the world over as a masterpiece of the representation of electronics in a world that is becoming overridden by them. Today Takehito Koganezawa’s work embodies the constant motion the world is in. Despite a more than 40-year age gap between him and Tanaka, both the artists have been able to show the changing dynamics of Japanese society through their work.
These 10 Japanese artists are from all ages, genres and inspirations. “The Jaipur house is perfect for this diverse exhibition of Japanese art with its white surfaces and history as a place of culture. Art is about being able to have power over the space.” says Tadashi Kanai, associate professor at Shinshu University and curator of the exhibition. The Indo-Japan friendship also worked towards the advantage of the organizers. “My dream is to showcase the best from all over the world and this is part of that endeavour,” adds Lochan.
(At the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, till 11 November.)