Universal Nature – Rediscovery of Kalevala by 6 Contemporary Japanese Artists


Universal Nature – Rediscovery of Kalevala by 6 Contemporary Japanese Artists

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 work by six Japanese contemporary artists. The pieces represent their interpretations of Finnish folklore and the Finnish mentality.

The exhibition is curated by the Japanese 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 worked for 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, an agency concentrated on contemporary art projects.

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, and Finnish art and culture. Artist Yusuke Asai, who has studied Finnish folklore independently, is also part of the exhibition.

Each artist was commissioned to produce a new piece of art after the trip, based on their experiences of Finland and their interpretation of Kalevala. Their work reflect both Finnish mysticism and the Japanese way of thinking.

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, they come alive in his sculptures. Tomoko Konoike ponders the theme of human brutality in her work. Her work 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 installations.

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 in Russia in 2014. Artists from Finland, Germany, 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 website:

Pictured above: Iikuma Hideki, wooden sculpture


Yusuke Asai
Born in Tokyo, 1981. Lives and works in Tokyo.


Yusuke Asai was born in Tokyo in 1981. He began his artistic career by filling the margins of his textbooks with drawings. Graduating from Kamiyabe High School, Kanagawa in 1999 with a concentration in ceramics, he chose to forego college and instead to continue making art on his own.

Yusuke Asai uses various materials to expand his world. He has been making the Masking Plant series since 2003, which are permanent marker drawings on masking tapes that are freely pasted on the walls and floors. He then collected soil and water from the local area and created the Earth paintings series. He also created the Sprouted Plants series by cutting shapes of animals and plants from the sheet of a white road marking line and torched on the road surface. Recently, he has received a lot of attention for large-scale earth paintings that are over 10 meter wide. He juxtaposes animals and plants without space, small animals and plants appear inside of bigger living things just like macro exists inside of micro, the ecosystem in the universe.

Yusuke Asai has had several solo exhibitions and also frequently participates in group exhibitions. He is a sought after artist for commissions, wall paintings and workshops. Some of his major exhibitions from the recent years include: “Yusuke Asai: Seeds of Imagination, Journey of Soil”, The Hakone Open-Air Museum, Kanagawa (2015); “All Living Things”, Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum, Shizuoka (2016); Setouchi Triennale, Inujima island, Okayama (2016 and 2013); “Echigo-Tsumari Art Field”, Tokamachi City, Niigata (2015); AICHI TRIENNALE 2010, Chojya-machi area, Nagoya, Aichi (2010), and “yamatane”, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, USA (2014).

Hideki Iinuma
Born in 1975 in Nagano.

SONY DSCHideki Iinuma was born in 1975 in Nagano, and has a Masters Degree from Aichi Prefecture University of Fine-Arts. He also studied at Ecole Regionale des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, France. Taking advantage of its European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University program (ERASMUS), he studied also in Copenhagen (Denmark), Milan (Italy) and Karlsruhe (Germany), and built up his artist career in Europe. After returning back to Japan his artworks have been exhibited not only in galleries but also at various local and international art fairs, outdoor monuments in Rokko Mountain, window installations in Tokyo, etc. His works have been highly acclaimed for vividly overturning the general image of woodcarving.

The models of Hideki Iinuma´s works are always women of today. The artworks do not only mirror the atmosphere of the current society, but are also a positive applause to the women living today, whereas Iinuma himself expresses that “women today uniquely combine strength and flexible ductility, which we cannot find in men.”

Tomoko Konoike
Born in 1960 in Akita. Lives and works in Tokyo.


Tomoko Konoike was born in Akita in 1960. She graduated from the Department of Painting (Japanese Painting) from the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1985. After working as toy, furniture, miscellaneous goods designer, Konoike started painting in 1998. She freely combines methods as painting, sculpture, animation, illustrated books, and games to create magnificent installations expressing modern myths. In her works she explores themes such as raw human emotion and man’s primordial nature.

Konoike has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions both in Japan and abroad. Some of her major solo exhibitions from the recent years include: ”Tomoko Konoike”, The Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Niigata (2016); “Primordial Violence”, Kanagawa Kenmin Hall, Kanagawa (2015); “Tomoko Konoike”, Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco, USA (2013); and many others.

Shiriagari Kotobuki
Born in 1958 in Shizuoka City.


Shiriagari Kotobuki is a Japanese manga artist, known for his dark humor and social criticism. He was born in Shizuoka in 1958, and graduated from Tama Art University with an MA in graphic design. He started working on his manga already whilst working as an advertising illustrator for the Japanese Kirin Brewery Company.

In 1985 Shiriagari debuted as a cartoonist with the book Ereki na Haru, receiving attention as a new type of gag cartoonist whose humor centers on parody. Working independently since 1994, Shiriagari continues to release fantasy and literary series works and other works in a wide range of genres, including satirical four-panel comic strips for newspapers and long-form narrative manga, as well as underground manga. In recent years he has expanded beyond manga into a variety of media, including video and art.

Shiriagari has been Professor of the Department of Manga Media at Kobe Design University since 2006. Some of his major solo exhibitions from the recent years include: “Shiriagari Kotobuki No Gendai Bijutsu “Kai.Ten.Ten”, Nerima Art Museum, Kariya City Art Museum, Itami City Museum of Art (touringg exhibition 2016-2017); “Yurutopia, We are looking dazed at the world”, Yokohama Civic Art Gallery Azamino (2012); “Oyaji no Sekai”, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (2007), and many more.

Yuji Ohta
Born in 1980 in Tokyo.


Yuji Ohta was born in Tokyo in 1980 and graduated from the Tokyo Zokei University Department of Oil Painting in 2009. He obtained a Master’s Degree from the Tokyo National University of the Arts in 2011 majoring in oil painting.

The theme of Ohta´s work is “untruth”. The modern world is filled with information, often false information. With a “lie” as a trigger one can catch a glimpse of the truth and social structure that normally remains hidden. His works aim at redefining the way we see the social structures we are surrounded by.

Some of his major exhibitions from the recent years include: “The Vision of Contemporary Art 2013″, The Ueno Royal Museum (2013); “The Latest Work by Lucio Fontana” AIKOKO GALLERY (2013); “The 15th Exhibition of the Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art”, Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki, Kanagawa (2012); Solo Show “The Latest Work by Jackson Pollock”, AIKOKO GALLERY (2011).

Ayumi Tanaka
Lives and works in New York.


Ayumi Tanaka is a Japanese-born artist, living and working in New York City. Tanaka has been working on collage work by using found images from private snapshot and the Internet to explore the theme of memories. She received a BFA from Osaka University of Arts in Japan in 2003, and studied at International Center of Photography in 2010.

Tanaka´s work has been shown internationally at exhibitions including United Photo Industries Gallery in New York, Tokyo Institute of Photography in Tokyo Japan, 25 CPW Gallery in New York, Pictura Gallery in Bloomington IN, Dumbo Arts Festival 2011 in NY, LOOK3 festival of the Photographs 2012 and Athens Photo Festival 2015. Her work has also been published in numerous magazines like The New York Times, Blow Photo (Dublin, Ireland), and LensCulture.