Shinkichi Tajiri exhibition now in SieboldHuis

Tajiri knotOn Thursday 11 June 2015 the exhibition Shinkichi Tajiri. Universal Paradoxes was opened in Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden, The Netherlands.

Shinkichi Tajiri  (1923-2009) is particularly known for his sculptures of knots, warriors and machines and his connections with the Dutch Cobra group. He also made photographs and – starting from the 1980s – digital computer drawings. Tajiri’s sculptures are often of monumental size and can be found in public spaces in the Netherlands and abroad. One of his most impressive works consists of four giant warrior sculptures on both ends of the bridge crossing the Maas river in Venlo.

IMG_0167My first acquaintance with the work of Tajiri was some 15 years ago through sculptures in Museum Valkhof in Nijmegen. Tajiri’s  ‘machines’ intrigued me, as their beauty appealed to me.  This is something else of course, as Tajiri also has stated, than  admiring (some) machines for their capacity to kill and cause damage.

In today’s global art world, Tajiri is an interesting  and fitting example. It tells us that we have to look at modern art beyond the limits of national boundaries. Tajiri’s life-story spans multiple continents and all are important in light of his activities as an artist . He was born in 1923 in Los Angeles from Japanese parents of samurai descent. After Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941,Tajiri and his family were evacuated with other Japanese-Americans to an internment camp in Arizona. In 1943 he joined the 442nd regimental combat team, solely consisting of Japanese-American volunteer  soldiers. This team was sent to Italy in 1944, where Tajiri was shot in his knee and subsequently spent six months in a hospital in Rome to recover.
In 1948 –unhappy with the still racist treatment of the Japanese-Americans in the United States – Tajiri moved to Paris. There he became a pupil of the sculptor Ossip Zadkine. Through Dutch novelist Simon Vinkenoog who modeled for Zadkine, Tajiri became acquainted with the Dutch members of the Cobra group and collaborated with them. Since 1962 the artist  lived and worked in a castle in the south of the Netherlands (Kasteel Scheres in Baarlo) and he became an official  Dutch citizen in 2008. At the age of 84 he passed away in 2009, having spent more than half of his life in the Netherlands.

IMG_0170The exhibition in the SieboldHuis is not a full overview of Tajiri’s life and work: unfortunately none of his machine sculptures are on display.  The exhibition concentrates on the themes knots, warriors and the Berlin wall. The objects are presented throughout the whole museum, including  in the inner garden, where a warrior and a knot sculpture are installed. On the ground floor two showcases display objects from Tajiri’s early years in the United States, such as photographs and drawings from his life in the Arizona internment camp.

The exhibition is accompanied  by a richly illustrated catalogue, authored by art historian Helen Westgeest, Tajiri’s daughters Giotta and Ryu Tajiri and others.

Helen Westgeest (et al.), Shinkichi Tajiri, Universal Paradoxes, Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2015. 176 pages, ISBN 9789087282325.