National | MUSEUM MUSINGS

Venue lets budding, talented artists bring their works out of the closet

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa

“Yomenanohana,” or kalimeris “yomena,” is a weed that flowers unnoticed in the fields, and for Kyoko Mita, it is the perfect name for a museum for unknown artists.

Having taught a watercolors course titled “A Hundred Flowers of the Four Seasons” at the Asahi Culture Center in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, for 14 years, Mita, 60, has met many extremely talented students.

Her pupils are generally women. They range in age from 20 to 85, but many only started the course after turning 60.

“When these women were young, Japan was at war. No one dreamed of taking an art course even if she had talents,” Mita said. “But after that, there was marriage, caring for the husband and child-raising. They are only free now, after all those duties are over.”

Because they had dreamed for so long of making art, many gave their all, sometimes creating masterpieces. But despite their efforts, their families often took no notice when they took their work home, she said.

“One woman has been painting a piece every week for 14 years. But her husband and children have never paid any attention. They only expect her to do household chores.”

Encountering such women prompted Mita to create a place where unknown artists could present their work. But when she opened her museum in December 1988, the amount of talent, effort and imagination that lay idle in these artists became even more apparent.

“Professional artists work to create art that will sell, but these women just put their whole passion into it. They create art purely out of joy, regardless of whether they will ever be recognized,” she said.

Compared with regular galleries, such as those in Tokyo’s Ginza district that charge as much as 80,000 yen a day, the daily exhibition fee at Yomenanohana Museum is just 10,000 yen, and sometimes Mita does not even charge that if the artists cannot afford it.

A huge variety of exhibits, including poetry, paintings, embroidery, sculptures and dolls, have adorned the walls of her museum.

Though most exhibitors are women, Mita also welcomes male artists.

One regular and popular exhibit, held between January and March, includes handmade “hinaningyo” (doll’s festival dolls) by artist-couple Keiichi and Sakiko Isogai.

The current exhibition, which will run through June 30, is “Embroidery on Canvas” by artist Mika Okada.

Okada, 33, who suffers from aphasia, creates a whole world of landscapes, portraits and everyday home images using extremely colorful thread.

After a summer holiday, the museum re-opens Sept. 4 with an exhibition titled “Hiroshima before the Atomic Bomb,” which runs until Oct. 27.

Octogenarian artist Yoko Hagiwara spent her youth in the city that was turned into ashes. Using charcoal on Japanese paper, she depicts Hiroshima as she remembers it, before the bomb.

“Her work was also exhibited in Hiroshima, but people there found it too sensitive. But I think it is important for people to see it, even if it’s difficult,” Mita said.