Tag Archives: flora

Yuri Kawanabe–weaving an Asian welcome in metal

Yuri Kawanabe 'Whirly halo neckpiece' (aluminium, silver 40 x 49 x 9 cm, 2004)

Yuri Kawanabe 'Whirly halo neckpiece' (aluminium, silver 40 x 49 x 9 cm, 2004)

Yuri Kawanabe constructing her work

Yuri Kawanabe constructing her work

I have always been fascinated by ceremonial displays of decorations handcrafted as though by magic. In my childhood, growing up in suburban Tokyo in the 1960s, I could still witness with excitement seasonal festivities with traditional decorations made from perishable materials like paper, straw, bamboo and other fresh plants. Over the years I have recognized that the aesthetic that I have been seeking through my art was actually rooted in these ephemeral creations.

In recent years, I have travelled to various regions in Asia and the Pacific including Tonga, Bali, China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, and India. There, I have encountered many ephemeral decorations made by locals for religious and seasonal occasions. I found a strong similarity to my own designs in those often modest, but meticulously crafted, ornaments. It is great to know that the skills to make these kinds of decorations have been passed from generation to generation and still survive today.

Ephemeral materials symbolically present a short-lived beauty of youth, purity and devotion. Fresh materials in vivid colours also retain (and conceal) tensions in their own forms. Thus in the early days (or hours) of a display, these perishable ornaments keep their strength within and make a striking impact on their viewers.

Yuri Kawanabe's photo from Bundi

Yuri Kawanabe's photo from Bundi

Intense contrasting colours dazzled me everywhere in India. At weddings, and in Hindu temples and festivals, everything and everyone seems to dress in almost iridescent hues. They look astonishingly beautiful and lively. The desire to adorn using the bright colours has been commonplace in many cultures worldwide, but no other culture than India seems to have such an eagerness to open the floodgates of colour.

I made the “Garland” series of anodised aluminium jewellery after an artist-in-residence stay in India. It was my attempt to generate a sort of visual “magnetism” by activating a field using bright contrasting colours. As in depictions of various idols, which are glorified with bright halos around them, the “Whirly Halo” neckpiece is designed to circle around a wearer’s head.

In a small northern town called Bundi, I was one of a few lucky tourists who happened to be there on the day of town’s annual festival. As a guest invited to the ceremony at the start of procession, I was presented with a beautiful garland. When the soft, fragrant string of flowers was placed around my neck by a young girl, I suddenly realised how honoured I felt. It was a gesture of welcome.

Yuri Kawanabe was born in Tokyo and completed a Master of Arts in ‘chokin’ (metalwork) at Tokyo University of Fine Arts. She moved to Australia in 1987, but retains strong ties to Japan and is involved in many exchange projects. Her works have been collected by museums including the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

Yuri Kawanabe is a participating artist in the Welcome Signs exhibition.

Every brooch has a catch

Vicki Mason Oregano, Wattle and Rose brooches. Photo by Bill Shaylor

Vicki Mason Oregano, Wattle and Rose brooches. Photo by Bill Shaylor

Vicki Mason Oregano, Wattle and Rose brooches. Photo by Bill Shaylor

The other day, a curator from Papua New Guinea was telling me about a particular custom of hospitality she grew up with called ‘hamal’. In certain circumstances, if a visitor expresses a liking for something that you possess, you are then obliged to give it to them. Clearly, this is a custom suited more to villages than cities. It’s hard to imagine it happening in an urban context, or is it?

At the end of the Signs of Change exhibition, three lucky winners will have their names drawn to receive a brooch by Melbourne jeweller Vicki Mason. The brooches are modelled on the wattle, rose and oregano plants, beautifully rendered in powder-coated brass (sourced from a scrap yard) and recycled flexible plastics sourced as remnants from the stationary industry. These plants are common features of suburban gardens in Australia, but Mason argues that they represent a common bounty, which she links to the elusive prospect of Australia becoming a republic. As she says:

If Australia is one day to become a republic then a new style of gardening to accompany a new style of governing seems possible. The work for this exhibition has the symbolic potential to promote the social value of gardens as reflecting notions of community, that is the essence of republicanism.

So if you receive this brooch, you also take on a republican vision. But there’s a catch. If someone praises the brooch while you are wearing it, you are obliged to give it to them – as long as they will agree to the same conditions as you. Easy come, easy go. Members of this chain are encouraged to leave comments on a website to record the transaction and reflect on its meaning.

The exhibition still has a couple of weeks to run. Tune in to her website at http://broachingchangeproject.wordpress.com/ to monitor progress. Who knows, you might end up as one of the links in the chain.

Mason’s work is a bold attempt to engage with the relational dimension of jewellery as a precious object that can link people together. Her work resonates back to situation in PNG. The anthropologist Malinowski describes a parallel arrangement called the kula, where villages organise their world around exchange of shell necklaces:

Perhaps as we read the account of these remote customs there may emerge a feeling of solidarity with the endeavours and ambitions of these natives. Perhaps man’s mentality will be revealed to us, and brought near, along some lines which we never have followed before. Perhaps through realising human nature in a shape very distance and foreign to us, we shall have some light shed on our own.

Perhaps the past has a future too.


Bronislaw Malinowski Argonauts of The Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes Of Melanesian New Guinea London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987 (orig. 1922), p. 25