Sunday, December 21, 2014

Asian art awakens in Ottawa

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 10/5/2012

To see an exclusive Herald video about this exhibit, go to

Thanks to its local arts council, area residents can now experience the Orient in Ottawa. 

The “Awakened Spirit: Calligraphy and Dolls of Japan” exhibit opened Wednesday at the Carnegie Cultural Center, 501 S. Main St., Ottawa. 

Attendees can view the artwork of Teshima Yukei, a master of “shosho” calligraphy, which is a genre intended to relay emotion and “spirit” through Japanese characters, Dr. Susan Nakao, co-curator of the exhibit, said. 

“Essentially [shosho] is beautiful writing illustrating poetry, prose, essay [and] letters,” Nakao, who began studying the art form in 2006, said. “When this merging of artist and work is successful, the viewer intuitively understands the meaning of the work, even though he or she may not be able to read the character.”

Although she was initially uninterested in the art form, Nakao, a published author and art professor, said shosho helped to captivate her visual senses. By using only one to four characters, shosho aims to appeal to a broader audience than traditional forms of Japanese calligraphy, such as shodo.

 “[The genre] was actually something that even a Westerner -like me who doesn’t read the Japanese characters can begin to understand by seeing the work, by feeling the expression of the spirit in the work,” Nakao said. 

Nakao and husband both temporarily acquired several pieces of Yukei’s collection for the next two years with the intention of visiting several universities and galleries throughout the United States. Shipping framed and original artwork — some which spans more than six feet — from Japan, however, proved to be a difficult and costly task, Nakao said, adding that it cost “thousands” to safely ship the works. The artworks on display in Ottawa, she said, have been displayed throughout Europe, South America and China.

While it looks somewhat simplistic, the process of developing a shosho piece of art can take months, Nakao said. Every detail of the artwork is meticulously executed, from choosing the proper ink, paper and script, to the speed of the artist’s hand when painting the piece, Nakao said. 

“It’s really very, very special that this is able to open in Ottawa,” she added.

The other element of the Awakened Spirit exhibit features handmade “Kimekomi” dolls, which are traditionally made of wood. Naoko Lee, a former Ottawa resident, crafted about 10 dolls for the exhibit.

To see a video on the exhibit, go to:

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