Masako Miki on Folklore, Mindfulness, and her Solo Show "Shapeshifters"

The stories we’re told about beasts, mythical creatures, and nightmares are just that—folklore. For sculpture artist Masako Miki, such things are manifested in everyday life.

It is a play on creatures we’ve been told about again and again—the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, The Boogey Man. In Miki’s eyes, In Shinto mythology, yōkai are animated characters who can shift their form to appear as different animate or inanimate objects. They range from living things such as animals and humans, to inanimate objects like tools such as sandals, prayer beads and mirrors.

Miki herself is an accomplished artist—exhibiting throughout the Bay Area at venues including Headlands Center for the Arts, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Kala Art Institute, and The Lab. She was a resident artist at The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), Project 387 (Gualala, CA), Kamiyama Artists in Residency (Tokushima, Japan), Facebook Artist in Residence (Menlo Park, CA) and the de Young Museum with an accompanying solo exhibition in 2016.

Nothing has stopped Miki from telling the stories of mythical lore.

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

And at the release of this newest project, Miki’s career comes to a pivotal moment. The artist has recently been awarded residencies at prestigious programs including the de Young Museum, Facebook, and the Robert Wilson Watermill Center. The whimsical magic of her creatures has caught the eyes of various curators and show leaders from coast to coast.

When asked about the relevance of her work in 2019, Miki answered with great insight, explaining that “Shinto tradition emphasizes the idea of interrelatedness in the universe.”

Going on, she expounded on the art and mystical attributes of the craft.

“Its rituals are constant reminders of how things are connected rather than disconnected. Thomas P. Kasulis, in his book Shinto: The Way Home brings up the notion of the nostalgia associated with existential religious forms. The etymology of the word “nostalgia” is the “ache” (algia) to “return home” (nostos),” she explained. “This home may be interpreted as a way of living and thinking.  It envisions a world beyond human-centric logic, where humanity used to be a responsive part of nature, rather than being an exploiter. We are only a part of this universe; these shapeshifters are a reminder of our connectedness.”

Much like in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, the story is centrally themed around industrialization and how nature co-exists with humans and machines. Heavily referencing spirits in the trees, plants, water, rain, and so much more. Miki is forthcoming on how we as humans interact with our spirits on a daily basis—a commentary on nature perhaps? It’s all about co-existing and for Miki, she feels this concept in her daily norm.

As a Japanese immigrant woman living between two cultures, shapeshifting can be seen as a metaphor for cultural adaptation and survival. 

Begun during her Robert Wilson Watermill Center residency as an Inga Maren Otto Fellow in 2018, these soft, body-scaled felt sculptures are a continuation of her previous miniature yōkai forms, displayed at her last solo exhibition at CULT. The exhibition Shapeshifters will have three sculptures on view as well as a grouping of ink and watercolor drawings exploring transitional space between the animal kingdom and ghost-like forms approaching abstraction. Both bodies of work explore the multiplicity of inhabiting more than one body or form referencing the Shinto concept of animism, that all things can become imbued with energy or life force and suggesting that the material and immaterial worlds are often intertwined.

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Shapeshifters,  on display at the MATRIX program at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photo via @bicoastalista

Shapeshifters, on display at the MATRIX program at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photo via @bicoastalista

// Shapeshifters, Miki’s works solo show, opens on January 12, and coincides with another of Miki’s solo exhibitions in the MATRIX program at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Jan 9 through April 28, 2019). The exhibition will run through February 23, with an opening reception on January 12 from 6-8 PM, which is free and open to the public; 1217 B Fell Street, Panhandle, cultexhibitions.com. Photography courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.


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