Eyes Water Fire
May 18th to June 22nd 2017
Opening/artist talk at 7:30 pm May 18th
Odd Gallery/Klondike Institute of Art & Culture
902 2nd Ave., Box 8000, Dawson City, Yukon Y0B 1G0 www.kiac.ca
Ihaya’s most powerful connection has been to India, which she has visited some sixteen times since 2005. She is a committed practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as compassionate Buddhism, and her first trip to South Asia was made with her Vancouver-based meditation group. Initially she was drawn to Ladakh, a remote and sparsely populated region in the north of India, often referred to as “Little Tibet” because of its ethnic, cultural, and religious ties to that disputed place.1 Ihaya has also spent long periods of time in Tibetan settlements in the Himalayan region.
Ihaya’s mixed-media installation expands her art-making beyond the fixed dimensions of the prints and drawings with which she has long been identified. Eyes, Water, Fire utilizes layering and repetition to suggest the complexity of the narratives she is trying to convey while also allowing the possibility of folding new ideas and experiences into each site- specific iteration. Although originating with the situation of Tibetans refugees, the symbolism of this work may be universalized to depict millions of refugees worldwide, including Syrians escaping war in their homeland and minority Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. Blue legs suggest forced migrations and long journeys, over snowy mountains and across wide seas. Red flames declare resistance and dignity. Eyes, large and small, are multivalent, signifying, among other things, the act of witness, windows to the mind, and vessels filled with and shedding tears. Using incense sticks, Ihaya burns tiny holes in her drawings of eyes as an act of prayer or meditation; the light that shines through these holes symbolizes hope.
Similar images and symbols appear in Ihaya’s video, also titled Eyes, Water, Fire. Here, the simplicity of her hand-drawn forms and stop-motion techniques – the spectral opposite of high-tech, digitally rendered animation -- accords with the simplicity of prayer, and the repetition of symbols again suggests meditation. The work alludes to the occupation of Tibet, the erasure of traditional life ways, the pollution of important river systems, and, again, self-immolation protests. The wonder of Ihaya’s simple forms and apparently guileless repetition is that they communicate emotional power, social complexity, and spiritual depth.
Robin Laurence © 2017
women and teenagers from every walk of life.
TOMOYO IHAYA was born and raised in Tsu City, Mie, Japan, and has been a resident of Canada since 2000. After studying studio arts at universities across Canada, Ihaya completed her MFA at the University of Alberta in 2002.
An interest in diverse cultures and a strong belief that art and one’s life should be intertwined have led Ihaya to travel and produce artwork through international artist-in-residency programs in India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and Canada. She has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally since 1998 and is a recipient of numerous project grants and awards for artists.
Since 2005, Tomoyo Ihaya has spent an extensive amount of time in India on independent art research and, during this time, she has become close to Tibetan communities in exile through her studies in Tibetan Buddhism. Since the winter of 2011, she has been working on a series of drawings about Tibetans who have self-immolated in response to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The drawings are a form of mourning and prayer for the victims, and the result of her close relationships with Tibetan friends and families over the years.
When she is not in India, Tomoyo Ihaya lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where she teaches and makes art.
After many years of traveling and living abroad, particularly in India (sixteen visits since 2005), I have grown increasingly sensitive to people who have been forced to migrate. I have heard many stories of the loss of lives in struggle against suppression, lost homelands, escapes, and life in exile. There are many young and old friends with whom I have shared time together, who are refugees. Each of them possesses a story of hardship within his/her heart. They have not seen their families for many years. Some elder friends have passed away in the foreign land they escaped to, far from their native land. All these stories I have heard have made me think about what it is to be born and live. As a person who was born in a stable country (Japan) and who now lives in a stable country (Canada), my level of resonance/synchronization with these people and their journeys may not be able to reach the true depth of their despair. However, I do feel pain and I feel compelled to draw when I see the images and hear the stories of thousands of people escaping en masse over mountains, across great plains and oceans by any means possible. These works are the result of my direct and indirect experiences with people whom I have come to know.
ROBIN LAURENCE is an independent writer, critic and curator based in Vancouver. She is the award-winning visual arts critic for The Georgia Straight and has long been a contributing editor of Canadian Art and Border Crossings magazines.