This exhibition introduces 40 wood lacquer crafts from the collection of ethnic sculptures donated by Kaneko Kazushige (b. 1925), Director of Japan’s Institute of Asian Ethno-Forms and Culture. Mr. Kaneko has devoted his life to researching and collecting ethnic works richly flavored in the history and culture of various Asian nations, and from 2002 to 2005, he donated to the NMK 1,035 pieces from his collection, accumulated over some 40 years. Mr. Kaneko’s donations have previously served as the centerpiece for the thematic exhibitions such as Asian Lacquer Arts from Kaneko Kazushige Collection (2010) and Ethnic Earthenware from Asia’s Heart (2011). This year, NMK presents Asia, Tales in the Trees - Woodcrafts from the Kaneko Kazushige Collection, highlighting varieties of Asian life through distinctive wood culture.
The selections, which were collected from across Asia, include a myriad of diverse wooden objects, many of which are gorgeously decorated with red paint and lacquer. The pieces range from everyday objects to sculptures of deities, ritual vessels, Buddhist sculptures and scriptures, scripture cases, and many more.
Bathtub for a Newborn Baby
Dayak tribe in Malaysia, Length - 108 cm
This bathtub is made from Borneo ironwood, named for its solid durability, and the two handles are shaped like animal deities. The outer surface is decorated with a relief carving of a human face with distinctively stretched earlobes. Throughout their lives, females in the Dayak tribe are given progressively larger earrings when they reach various rites of passage (e.g., anniversaries or weddings), causing their earlobes to get stretched out. For the Dayak, stretched earlobes are a key standard of beauty, and they also represent virtue, grandeur, and longevity.
Statue of Grain Deity
Bali tribe in Indonesia, Height- 20.5cm
Asia is characterized by the coexistence of diverse religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, as well as multifarious nature-based faiths. In agricultural societies, statues of grain deities are often featured in festivities praying for fertility.
Batak tribe in Indonesia, 19th Century, Height- 26.5 cm
The Bataks believe that ancestors, animals, plants, and inanimate objects all have spirits, and that those spirits can be controlled or induced by male priests. They use diverse dialects and have recorded their knowledge of healing and alternative medicine with their own unique writing system.
Ornamental Wooden Sculpture of Lion
Burma tribe in Myanmar, 19th century, Height- 44.2 cm
In Asia, lions and elephants have long been favorite subjects for diverse artworks, representing power and authority that repel evil and protect the Dharma.
Lacquerware inlaid with mother of pearl is a splendid artwork of light. This particular Vietnamese lacquerware epitomizes the Vietnamese attitude toward sculpture, which is based on Chinese-influenced cultural topics, such as the four divine creatures (i.e., dragon, phoenix, black turtle, white tiger), the sexagenary cycle, the three friends of winter (i.e., pine, bamboo, plum blossom), and the figures from ancient stories and legends.
Khmer tribe in Cambodia, 19th century, Height- 35.5 cm
In different parts of Southeast Asia, wooden lacquerware can be ornamented with a variety of distinctive techniques, such as chimgeum, tha yoe, hmanzishehca, and yun. This ritual cup represents the chimgeum technique, or sunken gold decoration, wherein an inscription is made in the base and then covered with raw lacquer. Then, before the lacquer dries, gold flakes or powders are applied to the surface. Since this technique requires the generous use of gold, it was generally used only for regal or religious crafts.