The Artist’s Kalevala in Japan


The Artist’s Kalevala in Japan

The Artist’s Kalevala is coming to Japan! The Universal Nature – Rediscovery of Kalevala by 6 Contemporary Japanese Artists exhibition will be on display at SEZON gallery in central Tokyo from August 6th to 27th. The gallery is known for exhibitions of up-and-coming contemporary artists. The exhibition presents the Finnish national epic Kalevala in a new way: from the Japanese point of view and in the form of contemporary art.

The exhibition brings together works by six Japanese contemporary artists. The pieces represent their interpretations of Finnish folklore and the Finnish mentality.

The exhibition was curated by the Japanese art curator Kenji Kubota who is known for his contemporary art projects related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its aftercare. The exhibitions have also been on display in New York and Copenhagen. Kubota has also co-curated many well know art festivals in Japan. He has his own gallery in Tokyo where he exhibits works of up-and-coming Japanese contemporary artists. Kubota is also the founder of Snow Contemporary.

The Artist’s Kalevala in Japan is a project started by The Kalevala Society and The Finnish Institute in Japan in 2016, when Japanese contemporary artists Kotobuki Shiriagari, Yuji Ohta, Ayumi Tanaka, Tomoko Konoike and Hideki Iinuma as well as the curator of the exhibition Kenji Kubota visited Finland to familiarize themselves with the Finnish national epic Kalevala, Finnish art and Finnish culture. Artist Yusuke Arai, who has studied Finnish folklore independently, also takes part in the exhibition.

After the trip, each artist created a new piece of art based on their experiences in Finland and their interpretation of Kalevala. Their works reflect both Finnish mysticism and the Japanese way of thinking in a very fascinating way.

The artists tell the story of Kalevala through many different art forms and genres. The exhibition brings together painting, photography, sculpting, video and installation art. Sculptor Hideki Iinuma depicts strong female characters in his works. Iinuma brings the mythical female characters of Kalevala into the modern world and they come alive in his sculptures. Tomoko Koinoke ponders the theme of human brutality in her works. They reflect raw human emotions such as lust, hatred and the violent nature of man. Her video installations tap into the emotional side of Kalevala. Yuji Ohta combines truth and fiction, ancient and modern in his installation.

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 13.50.01Earlier works by Tomoko Konoike and Yusuke Asai.

The aim of the project is to broaden the way we interpret mythology and folklore, to create new art, to promote mutual cultural understanding between Finland and Japan and to promote artistic co-operation between the two countries.

The projects is a part of The Kalevala Societies Artist’s Kalevala project that started in 2009. In the project the Finnish national epic Kalevala is interpreted by artists from all over the world. The exhibition was a great success for example in Russia in 2014. Artists from Finland, Russia, Spain, Vietnam, Italy and Benin have participated in the project before.

The Artist’s Kalevala in Japan exhibition will be on display at SEZON gallery in Jingumae, Tokyo, from August 6th to 27th.

Time and place:

Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 3-6-7

1F Atelier / Gallery 11:00-18:00
B1F Cafe & Dining Bar 11:00-26:00
B2F Gallery 11:00-18:00

SEZON galleries website:

Pictured above: Iikuma Hideki, wooden sculpture

Introducing the artists:
Tomoko Koinoke:

tomoko_konoike Tomoko Koinoke is a well-known Japanese contemporary artist. Konoike was born in Akita city in 1960. She graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts in 1985. Konoike draws inspiration form myths. In her works she explores themes such as raw human emotion and man’s primordial nature. She uses a variety of techniques from painting to sculpture and animation. In this exhibition, a video installation of Konoike performing a Finnish folk song while buried in snow will be displayed together with a Kalevala inspired embroidery work made on animal skin.

Konoike has had several gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas and at the Wendi Norris Gallery. Many works by the artist have been sold at auction, including ‘Set of seven: Chapter Three ‘Wreck” sold at Christie’s Hong Kong ‘Asian Contemporary Art and Chinese 20th Century Art (Evening Sale) in 2010 for $264,493. There have been many articles about Tomoko Konoike, including ‘The Mystical Surrealism of Tomoko Konoike’ written by Nastia Voynovskaya for Hi-Fructose in 2013.

Major exhibitions in recent years:

“Skin, Needle, Thread (Primordial Violence Vol. 3)” at Niigata prefectural Tadashi Ishima Art Museum (2016)

“Primordial Violence” at Kanagawa Prefectural Hall Gallery (2015)

“Tomoko Konoike” at Wendy Norris Gallery / San Francisco, USA (2013)