Japanese artist Yukiko Futamura has a passion for Islamic art and illumination. She studied Western calligraphy and Western manuscript illumination under artist Miwako Kawaminami for nearly two decades. In 2009 Yukiko participated in the launch of Shell Studio, and exhibited at the Shell Studio Exhibition held in Tokyo in 2015 and in Osaka and Tokyo in 2019. In addition, she exhibited at the Atelier MoonShell exhibition and Japan Calligraphy School exhibition. In 2019 she participated in a reproduction project of the Naito collection, a medieval Illuminated Manuscripts donated to the National Museum of Western Art by Dr. Naito.
We talk to Yukiko about preserving cultural heritage, learning traditional Islamic arts and the cultural influences that inspire her work.
Can you tell us about your background and journey into art?
Since I was a child, my parents have often taken me and my sister to various art exhibitions. My parents both had a hobby of oil painting, so there were many sketchbooks, art books and painting tools at home. That's why I naturally enjoyed sketching and watercolor painting. Since 2005, I started to study Western calligraphy and Western manuscript illumination in Tokyo. In calligraphy, I learned not only how to actually write letters, but also the differences in letter styles and history depending on the times and regions. The illumination class covers a wide range of topics such as coloring, how to handle paper and vellum, the meaning and history of patterns and symbols, how to knead shell gold, how to apply gold leaf and burnish it, and so on. My work is mainly illuminated patterns of the Bible and the Book of Hours, painted on vellum using the techniques of the time.
How has your cultural; heritage influenced your creativity?
I think I am unconsciously influenced by various things. Japan has four seasons and is sensitive to the changing seasons, and delicate expressions have been made in art. It can be said that it is a culture where you can feel the beauty of ephemeral, small and delicate things. This feeling is the same in everyday life. Also, in Japanese food, the sense of the season is especially important, and I learned how to choose tableware that suits the season, how to present food on a plate, and color combinations of ingredient from the home-cooked food that my mother made. I can feel the beauty peculiar to Japan in the pottery, kimonos, bonsai and ornaments used at seasonal events that I see on a daily basis.
What is characteristic is that we Japanese love asymmetrical beauty in the arrangement of things. That is especially true in traditional flower arrangement, Ikebana. It is based on the idea that everything always changes with the passage of time and all worldly things are impermanent. There are many beautiful symmetrical patterns in Islamic art, and I can also see the different beauty there. Another thing I would like to add is the beauty of margins and an empty space. Instead of filling the space tightly, I dare to leave a margin. The feeling of air there is important, and my Ikebana master used to say, "Let the wind pass through." It is also a form of beauty that Japanese people have sought to eliminate waste and seek conciseness.
Your works are inspired by Islamic illumination, Persian and Mughal miniature painting traditions of Iran and India. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?
I have loved traditional Indian and Middle Eastern costumes since I was a child. I was also fascinated by mosques, tiles, carpets, mosaic and Arabian music. It may have been a longing for something exotic. In India, Spain, Morocco and Sicily, where I traveled, I was strongly attracted to the beautiful Arab-influenced buildings, crafts and textiles. Also, since I started learning Western illumination, I have more opportunities to come into contact with illumination art in general. As I went to exhibitions such as Islamic art and Indian miniatures held in Japan, I became more motivated to actually learn Islamic illumination and miniature painting.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
I started learning Islamic illumination from 2020. When I was looking for a way to learn online, I found the Golden Flower Challenge hosted by Esra Alhamal. That was a challenge that to paint Islamic decorative flower patterns one by one for 14 days. After that I attended her Islamic illumination course and workshops. It was very interesting and fresh for me to analyze the construction on which the pattern is based, as well as to trace the existing pattern. I was overwhelmed by the excellent techniques of the artists of the time, such as the fine geometric and biomorphic patterns in the decoration of the Quran. When it comes to coloring, the experience I have learned in Western manuscript illumination over the years has helped me. However, I struggle with the color scheme every time, and I am doing trial and error. Also, outlining is a detailed and very patient work, but I got used to it by practicing repeatedly. I also participated in the workshops of Tehreem Pasha and Samira Mian. I have studied Persian miniature painting under the tutorship of Anahita Alavi. I learnt not only the technique of miniature painting, but also the characters and creatures that appear in Persian mythology and epics as motifs. I also deepen my knowledge by reading and looking at books on Islamic art. I wish there were more books on Islamic art written in Japanese.
Where do you find inspiration for your colour compositions?
Color inspiration is everywhere. Nature is the greatest source of my inspiration. The flowers and trees of the four seasons, the color of the sky, etc. I think nature is the best artist. I also get inspiration from the fabrics I collect from all over the world. Indian sari, Persian table cloth, Turkish rug, Batik from India and Indonesia…these are my treasures and I always want to keep them close to me. Needless to say, I get hints from the works of the artists of the past. I think there are traditional color combinations in Islamic illumination. I respect it and ultimately believe in my sensibilities and choose colors.
You have developed a contemporary twist on this traditional skill, how did you develop a distinct style?
To be honest, I don't know what my unique art style is. However, if there is something that appeals to the viewer depending on my cultural background and personality, that is probably the case. I like to draw fine and delicate lines and patterns, so that may be one of my characteristic styles. I draw old Quran decorations in different colors from the original, and sometimes I mix Islamic and Japanese patterns. Islamic illumination and miniature are a whole new world for me. I still have a lot to learn, and I want to continue working with passion.
How have you successfully combined diverse cultures to create a unique recognizable style?
I have always wanted to create works that make the most of my Japanese sensibility in my paintings. I feel that the work reflects what has been unconsciously drawn out of the box containing a large stock of what I have seen and experienced in my life. I am now participating in a unique project. A Turkish professor of Japanese literature saw my work on SNS and invited me to the project, her Turkish translation book of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is a traditional Japanese poetry collection of 101 poems written by 101 poets during the Heian period (794-1185). She asked me to draw illustration for the poems. I chose the poems of three famous female poets. When I accepted the offer, I wondered if I could incorporate elements of Islamic art into my paintings. I drew one of the women in Turkish clothes instead of Japanese kimono. I drew Persian miniature-like backgrounds and Islamic floral and geometric patterns. It was a very challenging and rewarding job. One of the paintings will be used as the cover of a magazine as well.
Do you think the preservation of cultural heritage is important?
Yes, I definitely think so. We all should have a greater sense of crisis. Once lost, the treasure cannot be recovered. Individual effort alone is not enough to preserve cultural heritage in the best condition. I think every country needs wisdom of experts. We also need funding for restoration and preservation. It is very sad to see that great cultural heritage is damaged or destroyed by wars, conflicts and natural disasters.
What are your hopes and aspirations as an artist?
I would like to go to home countries of Islamic art and see the real art work there. I am interested in how Islamic culture and Japanese culture have influenced each other. The Buddhist culture of the Tenpyo period (729-749) brought various treasures from Persia, India, China, etc. to Heijyokyo (capital of Japan at the time), the final destination of the Silk Road. These treasures and those made in Japan that imitate their designs are stored in Shosoin in Nara, Japan. Over the years, these patterns have been refined and transformed into something that suits the Japanese sensibility. I hope I can draw those patterns and share them to the world in the future. I will continue to explore my own art style as well. And it would be great if I could meet many wonderful artists that I made friends on social media in person.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep artistic traditions alive?
I believe that the future of Islamic art is bright. In Japan, the image of Arabian Nights used to be strong, but Muslim culture is gradually being recognized and is being taken up by the media. There are also increasing number of Islamic art collections and exhibitions of works from overseas. With the development of the Internet, it has become possible to learn directly from Islamic artists even from overseas like me. Every day I feel love and passion of my fellow Islamic art lovers.
There is a saying that tradition is to keep the fire, not to worship the ashes. I think it is important to respect and appreciate what our predecessors left us, but to further evolve and develop it. Isn't it inheritance to take in new things and integrate them with tradition, not just copying the superficial shape? In order to do so, I think that it is all about each artist’s daily efforts and passion to create new works. It is also important to open a door and support all those who are willing to learn traditional art. We should take pride in our own culture and respect the cultures of other countries. And I truly hope that the world will be peaceful so that our cultural heritage around the world can be passed on to future generations.
I would like to thank Bayt Al Fann for giving me the opportunity for this interview and I really appreciate all my friends in the Islamic art-loving community for their love and warm support.
For more information follow Yukiko Futamura on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/accounts/login/?next=/yukiko_futamura/
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