Ceramics and calligraphy—considered Japan’s most significant art mediums—traditionally have been male-dominated art forms, and only recently have women been allowed to pursue these areas of study and apprenticeship. A new exhibit in New York will celebrate the work of five Japanese female ceramists and the country’s leading female calligrapher, who is 99 years old. Their work is being presented from June 5 through August 3 at the Joan B. Mirviss gallery in exhibits entitled “The French Connection: Five Japanese Women Ceramists and a Passion for France” and “Guided by the Brush.”
The French Connection exhibit explores how the women, classically trained in clay in Japan, developed their style through studying in France. In contrast to the strict formality of ceramic tradition in Japan, and women’s usually lowly roles in the craft, the freedom that they found in France helped them hone their technique and led to international recognition, and an evolution of Japanese ceramics.
In a similar vein, the exhibit Guided by the Brush focuses on the success of another female artist, Shinoda Toko, one of Japan’s most famous Abstract Expressionist artists, who developed new styles in calligraphy and paint. The artist was trained classically in calligraphy, but her move to New York in the 1950s helped her develop a new style, in which she infused traditional techniques with the sense of energy and freedom that she found in America.
Both exhibits show how the female artists rose above the traditional gender restraints of Japanese art and melded the classical methods they were taught with the less restrictive traditions of the West, becoming more autonomous as artists and creating new and revolutionary styles.