Originally published in XIBT Magazine, Berlin, 2022 October-December Issue
Miwa Komatsu is a contemporary Japanese artist who stands for the autonomy of spirituality within our contemporary life. Komatsu fights for this autonomy by connecting traditions of the old world with more disheartening and complex realities of today. Blending age-old Japanese beliefs and painting technique with her vision for harmony Komatsu is hoping to transcend intellectual and cultural schisms. Formally she achieves this through employing strong colors and exuberant expressionism. Her works are created in a slightly theatrical mode as people observe her process, mesmerized by a young woman in a white hakama robe. During this mysterious happenings Komatsu acts as a priestess in her own right, channeling the philosophy of peaceful transformation through her gestures and then her viewers. This summer Komatsu had a solo exhibition at Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, an important event for the artist who has repeatedly cited as one of her influences.
Could you tell me more about how Taro Okamoto (1911-1966), an important Japanese artist and art theorist has impacted you over the years?
Although Taro Okamoto has a strong impression of creating three-dimensional and two-dimensional works, he was actually talented in writing, and his research into Japanese history, especially the art of the Jōmon period (c. 14,500 – c. 300 BCE), has reawakened the world to the splendor of the art of the that period. It is said that the Jōmon period was a time of peace, and the designs on earthenware and clay figurines still fascinate many people today.
Thanks to Taro Okamoto, I have once again been reminded of the magnificence of Jōmon art. I realize that the art of the Jōmon, which was connected to the universe and with the earth, has been passed down from generation to generation in the DNA of my soul, which lives today, and is in great harmony with that past.
What literary works have impacted you most?
Probably Noriko Ibaragi (1926-2006). His poems gave me courage when I was younger.
What roles do women often play in traditional Japanese spiritual life?
How has it changed over history and where do you find yourself in it now?
Women, called Miko (priestesses), have played an essential role in Shinto rituals from ancient times to the present.
A study of Japanese art history reveals that most of the imperial painters in Japanese history were men, and many women did not have the opportunity to learn to paint even if they possessed artistic talent. This year I created a large pair of mandalas at Toji Temple, and many people are surprised that they were drawn by a woman. Little by little, I feel that the time has come when we are not bound by gender. That is a very wonderful feeling.
You are described as sometimes as a Yorishiro- you and your work being a vessel for spirits. Do you have any formal spiritual training?
What are your spiritual practices outside of art?
I studied and practiced meditation in the south of Thailand. Prayer and meditation are important to me on a daily basis. Through meditation, I feel the energy of nature, spirit and the universe, which helps me to heal my mental fatigue on a daily basis.
A natural follow up question then. I am curious to know more about what role women have played and perhaps will play, in Japanese spiritual life.
Women are said to be deeply connected to the energy of the moon. Menstruation is also referred to as the passing of the moon, and women have a great affinity with this cosmic energy. Pregnant woman- like objects have also been found on ancient Japanese clay figurines.I am not married and have never had children, but I believe that more and more women are choosing to be unmarried and pursue different paths. I believe that the time will come when we can respect each other with our souls and not discriminate based on gender, because although there are gender differences in the body, there is no gender in the soul.
Similar to being described as a Yorishiro I get a sense that there is a real motherly relationship between you, the divine beast and your art works. Would you say there is any truth to that?
Yorishiro indicates a concept that a sacred being dwells in an object. In Japan there is a story of 99 deities or spirits dwelling in objects that people have used for many years, which reveals a deep relationship between people and spirits. I do not know if there is a relationship to motherhood but I believe it is a form of mutual harmony between us and invisible beings.
What was the public’s response to the project at Zenkō-ji Temple?
Many visitors came to the live painting and exhibition of artworks at Zenkoji Temple. Compared to other countries, I sometimes feel that gender equality in Japan is still lagging behind, but as I, as a woman, was allowed to paint a mandala at Toji Temple, I feel that little by little the opportunities to differentiate between people based on genders, such as women and men, are decreasing.
What are your future plans? What excites you most from what’s coming up in 2023?
I am excited to see many of you abroad again next year, as I plan to have solo exhibitions abroad, including in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.