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Selected Artists - Drawing prize 2018

Daniel et Florence Guerlain

Leiko Ikemura

Leiko Ikemura was born in 1951 in Tsu, Japan.
After studying sculpture in Osaka, she trained in Europe, notably in Seville in 1972.
She lived in Switzerland, then moved to Germany and now divides her time between Cologne and Berlin. In 1983, she had her first solo show at the Bonner Kunstverein (Bonn) and has since exhibited in several museums, including, in 2017, the Kunstmuseum, Ahrenshoop (Germany) and the Nevada Museum of Art. Her works feature in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Kunstmuseums in Basel, Zurich and Bern; the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the Florence and Daniel Guerlain Collection. She is represented by the Karsten Greve (Paris) and Michael Fuchs (Berlin) galleries.
Photo : ©DONATA WENDERS.

Her forms appear soft and hazy, rather like metamorphosing people, animals and landscapes.

But the work Leiko Ikemura produces is far more deeply committed, delicately revealing her attitude towards feminism and global ecological and political concerns. Her subjects are often identical; they may even be described as “very simple” and repeated for years in a quasi-performative manner. Simplicity is the equivalent of obviousness for this Japanese-born artist, whose work should initially be interpreted through the prism of this dual culture. She remembers how when she arrived in Europe, she was always asked about the way she felt as an Asian woman artist, which may explain her penchant for developing a self-centred body of work, in which she explores the question of genders and nationalities. Issues from which she also sought to free herself in post-May 1968 Europe. “It was a very intense period,” she remembers, “consisting not only of protests but also utopias.” She thus obsessively depicts faces and bodies, inexhaustible subjects alluding to the study of human nature.

She has read the theories of Nietzsche, Goethe and Virginia Woolf. She “dissects” and analyses others in multiple drawings even if, in tandem, she also continues to produce paintings and ceramics. From the 1990s onwards, in reaction to a dominant art world and a society that moved too fast, Leiko Ikemura’s work changed direction. She refreshed her perception of space and reflected on how to be more open to the world. Sources of metamorphoses and combinations of different elements, her forms became more intricate. “Transformation bonded with the notion of emergent creation and my work has since focused on a more expansive approach.” As she discovered or reread Japanese writers such as Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki or Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, she adopted a sort of natural cosmogony. Always striving to use simple, or even naïve artistic means, a limited palette or quasi-artisanal materials, she quietly decries the injustice of ecological catastrophes. Without expressing it in literal terms, she attests to the need to remember the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

Urgency is conveyed infinitely slowly. It is a whispered yet essential contestation, through which the artist questions her role in society.