Conceptual book; text handwritten by the artist on grains of rice, suspended in a cast polyester resin "Kewpie" doll; acid free card stock; wrapped in vintage wool or cotton Japanese kimono material.
12.5 x 12.5 x 2.5 cm
Artist's Statement: Kewpie is a character created by American illustrator Rose O’Neill in 1909 as an illustration for Ladies' Home Journal. These round faced, Caucasian babies with wings were inspired by Cupid, hence the name "Kewpie". Her Kewpie illustrations became very popular and Ms. O’Neill created children’s books, dolls, and many other keepsakes based on her Kewpies.
Kewpie is one of many characters from the West that have been adopted by the Japanese. These include "Miffy", a rabbit from Holland, "Moomin Troll" from Finland, Canada’s “Ann of green Gables”, and others. These characters appeal to the Japanese and fit so well into Japanese popular culture and aesthetic of cute, "kawaii", that Japanese people are often unaware these characters are not created in Japan. Kewpie became the official mascot of the Japanese condiment company "Shokuhin Kogyo Co., Ltd." c.1925. In 1957 the company changed its name officially to "Q.P. Corporation". "Kewpie-chan", as it is called in Japan, is well known by both young and old. It is on every container of the most popular mayonnaise in Japan and you can buy plastic Kewpie dolls in any size, colour, and outfit imaginable.
This artist’s book is an observation of my experience living in Japan from 1998 – 2001.
I am of Japanese heritage, but I would consider myself very North American in my outlook and day-to-day culture. I speak and understand very little Japanese. I am much more proficient in French! I met many people who were first or second generation "Foreigners" living in Japan. Culturally they are much more Japanese than I. They have homes, raise their children, and work, all in Japan. However, because they look different, they will always be treated as foreigners by the majority of the Japanese. In Japan, if you look or sound like a foreigner, you are a foreigner, and thus think like one. But, if you look Japanese, only sound like a foreigner, then you must be at least a little Japanese, and thus think like one.
Growing up in Canada and being of Japanese and Philippino heritage, I have never really been treated as a foreigner or non-Canadian here. I am a Canadian.
For this artist’s book, I have chosen grains of rice, the staple food of Japanese cuisine. On the rice, I have written a selection of the phonetic sounds that make up the Japanese language. I chose to write these in the Roman alphabet we use in the West rather than the symbols used to represent these syllables in the Japanese writing systems, to reflect my experiences in Japan: to be included and excluded; to understand and not understand a fusion of the East and the West.
Grains of Japanese short grain rice were written on by hand and embedded in polyester resin that was cast in a silicon mold. The cloth “furoshiki” wrap is made from vintage Japanese cotton and wool kimonos that I brought back from Japan. The artist’s statement and colophon were set on a “Macintosh G5” and photocopied onto acid free cover stock.
Akemi Nishidera is an artist based in Toronto. She is a graduate of the Printmaking programme at the Ontario College of Art and apprenticed with artist Richard Flavin in Japan for three years. She now has a studio/gallery in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, where she explores printmaking, papermaking, and bookbinding.
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