Japanese tradition and modernity: The unique art journey of Mari Nerome

February 7th, 2023
Mari Nerome art journey

Studying Dyeing Crafts at the University in Okinawa and a fascination in the complex process of making Kimono brought Mari to become an artist. Mari Nerome combines both traditional techniques with her own concept of work, which lies in subjects such as life and death or the existence of gods and spirits in nature. Aside from paintings, her work led to Mari’s Collection. “Now, under the theme of “a traditional form that fits with modern attire,” we are working on “Tsumami Craft” accessories made of hand-dyed silk fabrics,” describes Mari.

Can you tell us about your career to date? How did you become an artist?

I have loved drawing since I was a child and spent most of my time at my grandparents’ house drawing pictures or doing some sort of craft.

When I was in high school, I wanted to become a fashion designer and considered going to a vocational school, but my parents wanted me to go to a four-year university. So I applied to the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, Crafts Major Dyeing Course to learn expertise in dyeing fabrics.

I chose the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts because there was no other university where I could study traditional Okinawan dyeing.

At first, I wanted to study dyeing techniques that could be applied to fashion design. When I made my first kimono at university, I found the complexity of the process challenging, and I was drawn to the fascination of the technique itself. This led me to become an artist because I wanted to combine the beauty of traditional techniques with my own unique sensibility and challenge the world of contemporary art.

Where do you get inspiration for your works?

I often get inspiration for my designs from trees, including the banyan tree, a large tree found in the tropics. The banyan tree, which I often choose as a motif, has a unique shape that reminds me of the strength of life and the mystery of nature, which inspires a sense of awe.

As for the concept of my work, my subjects are life and death, the existence of gods and spirits in nature, Japanese myths and legends, and so on. I am also constantly influenced by the various things that happen in the world, which I combine with new forms of expression. My most recent work is about war and peace. Other works have been inspired by classical music, such as novels, memoirs, and operas.

KIMONO has a completely different beauty when it is a single piece of cloth and when it is worn.

Mari often gets inspiration from trees and mystery of nature.

Mari often gets inspiration from trees and the mystery of nature.

Can you tell us a little about the technique and process of painting on cloth? Is there a story or background to this art form?

I use a technique called “katazome/noribou-sen” (stencil dyeing and paste dyeing) to create my work. I start the process with a lot of enthusiasm, especially for kimonos, because there are many steps involved.

First, I draw a draft design on a template, and once the design is finalized, I draw a full-size draft on a large piece of paper. Since I often work on “eba or eba-moyo” (the design that forms a single large picture), in which the patterns are connected when the kimono is sewn together like a single picture, I have to make sure that the connection and matching of the patterns when sewn together are well structured at the time of the full-size draft. When dyeing a kimono, we do not dye it in the shape of a kimono sewn together, but rather we copy the pattern onto a long, narrow cloth 40 cm wide and 13 to 16 m long, and dye it. If a mistake is made anywhere, the pattern will be misaligned when sewn together.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many processes involved, so it is difficult to explain everything, but there is a video that summarizes the dyeing process.

Mari explains the dyeing process in her blog posts as well.

Do you have a favorite piece of work you have done so far? Can you tell us more about it and your thoughts on it?

If I had to pick one, I would say “Yomigaeri – Return from the sanctuary of Death” a kimono piece I did for my graduate school graduation project. I created this work as an entrance to the land of the dead that appears in Japanese mythology, and as a boundary between life and death. I also like “Lysistrata – Woman’s Peace” and “Ashes of Death,” which I created after entering the doctoral program. Dyeing is not a well-known term, but it refers to the use of dyeing techniques to create paintings.

I also have a special attachment to kimono works, which take a long time to produce. It is a little different from the feeling of “I love it”.

However, I am never 100% satisfied with any of my works. When I look at a completed work, I find many things that I wish I had done better. That’s why I want to create the next piece right away.

Dyeing refers to the use of dyeing techniques to create paintings. 

Dyeing refers to the use of dyeing techniques to create paintings.

Who are your customers? Do you sell overseas?

Kimono works take three months to a year to make, so we don’t sell them yet. Dyed paintings are sold to people who want to decorate their homes with artwork. As I am just starting out as an artist, I am not yet selling that many of them.

Accessories from Mari’s Collection, which are made of hand-dyed fabrics, are often purchased by overseas customers and Japanese who work overseas. I remember how happy I was when some of them chose our products as gifts for their business partners.

I was overwhelmed by the pieces in Mari’s Collection. When and how did you come up with the idea for this collection?

Thank you very much. I am glad you think so.

I lived in Moscow, Russia for two years because of my mother’s work. In Moscow, there are two Japanese cultural events a year, Hinode and J-fest, and the accessories in Mari’s Collection were started when I exhibited at Hinode in 2017. That year, we were selected to exhibit at the event, but we could not make many hand-dyed T-shirts and other items because it takes time and there is only one month before the event. I searched the Internet for Japanese handicrafts to see what I could make, and I found “Tsumami Craft” which I thought I could do. The event includes a yukata (summer kimono) contest, and many Russians in kimono come to the event. This idea was born out of a desire to have visitors pick up authentic crafts to match their favorite garments.

Since there was no one close to me who could teach me the techniques of Tsumami Craft, I taught myself the technique. After acquiring the basic techniques, I researched unique designs and techniques. At first, I mainly made hair ornaments using rayon crepe, but Japanese businessmen working in the area told me that they would be happy to have something like a pin badge that goes with their suits, so I started making lapel pins and cufflinks as well. It was around this time that the brand name “Mari’s Collection” was established.

Now, under the theme of “a traditional form that fits with modern attire,” we are working on Tsumami Craft accessories made of hand-dyed silk fabrics.

Mari's Collection includes hair ornaments, lapel pins and cufflinks.

Mari’s Collection includes hair ornaments, lapel pins and cufflinks.

Has Webnode been helpful to Nejime-sama’s online presence? If so, how has it helped?

Yes, it has. It has been very helpful. When we show others who we are, business cards are still the most common way to meet in person, but a website allows us to convey more information to others than a noun by simply attaching a link to an email or line. Since most of our correspondence with overseas event organizers is done by e-mail, sending a website is very useful because it allows them to see all of my resume, portfolio, images of my work, and activity history in one place.

I also like the fact that I can customize the design of the site myself, which makes it easier to express my unique worldview and my personal style than on social networking sites such as Instagram or Facebook.

If you were to introduce Webnode to others, what would you recommend?

First of all, you don’t need to have any technical knowledge to create an original website that is worth looking at. You can easily create a stylish website by choosing your favorite design from a wide variety of templates and customizing it for yourself. The editing screen is also easy to use, and I recommend that you get a quick response to your inquiries if you have any questions or problems.

I use my own domain name, and I was having trouble linking my original e-mail address with my PC and cell phone using that domain. I couldn’t get it right no matter how many times I tried, so I contacted the support center and they helped me set it up with detailed explanations using screenshots. You can create a full-fledged web page for basically free, but there are several levels of paid plans that you can upgrade to suit your needs.

In fact, when I decided to create a website, I tried several other website builders at the same time and created a few sites with the free version. Among them, Webnode is still my favorite because it has a particularly large number of stylish design templates and the operation of the editing screen is the smoothest. Some companies had slow editing screens that made it difficult to make progress. Therefore, I would recommend Webnode even if you compare their design and ease of editing with other companies.

I would appreciate it if you could tell us about your future aspirations.

In August of last year (2022), I held my first solo exhibition at the Urasoe City Museum of Art in Okinawa. Many people viewed my works and gave me feedback, which made me realize once again the importance of presenting my works. Since all of my works are based on Japanese craft techniques, I would like to hold exhibitions abroad in the future to promote cultural exchange, and I am working hard toward this goal. I would like to become an artist who can promote international cultural exchange through art.

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