Okinawa : une exception japonaise

Le Plac'Art Photo, Paris, 2016

In the summer of 2016 I worked with the bookstore and gallery space Le Plac'Art Photo in Paris to curate a show of photography from Okinawa with a selection of rare publications and prints.

The subtropical islands of Okinawa are one of the great photographic destinations in Japan. Daido Moriyama, Araki, Shomei Tomatsu, Keizo Kitajima ... all the leading figures of Japanese photography have undertaken projects in the archipelago. However, despite this list of famous visitors and the growing popularity of Japanese photography around the world, few photographers from Okinawa have been presented on an international stage.

This exhibition reveals Okinawa’s artistic wealth through a series of rare books, magazines and photographic prints by its greatest photographic artists. With a tradition of local craft perpetuated for generations in numerous fields – painting, sculpture, ceramics – the art of Okinawa is characterized by a search for simplicity, beauty, and the essential. This strong artistic tradition is associated both with the natural beauty of the landscape but also with the turbulent history since the US postwar occupation up until today which make the Okinawan islands such a magnetic and complex subject.

From the mid-1970s Okinawan artist collectives began to emerge, and in 1985 the magazine Bifuu by the photographer Kenshichi Heshiki. An entirely handmade “art brut” object with an original illustrated cover and cheap laser-printed paper, sometimes in black and white, sometimes in magenta, this is a singular object. Over the course of 5 years and 12 issues, this magazine featured work by a broad range of Okinawa artists, both on their native islands and also further afield, such as Mao Ishikawa’s series in Philadelphia which followed on from her legendary work on Camp Hansen, a portrait of the complex relationship between Okinawans and the US military bases and GIs.

Okinawa : une exception japonaise (Okinawa: A Japanese Exception) spans the history of the islands from 1970s to the present day, revealing a surprising new face of Japan, both strong and troubled, which has yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Mao Ishikawa,  Hot Days in Camp Hansen , 1975–77

Mao Ishikawa, Hot Days in Camp Hansen, 1975–77

Kenshichi Heshiki. Urasoe, 1968 

Kenshichi Heshiki. Urasoe, 1968 

Ryuichi Ishikawa. Okinawa, 2012 

Ryuichi Ishikawa. Okinawa, 2012 

Okinawa, Installation view, Le Plac'art Photo

Okinawa, Installation view, Le Plac'art Photo