[expositie] Tomiyama Taeko – Karayuki (China-bound)

Tomiyama Taeko: Karayuki (China-bound)
by Chia-Jung Chang

Tomiyama Taeko was born in Japan in 1921, but moved to China in 1933 with her family, growing up in the Manchurian cities of Dalian and Harbin. Tomiyama Taeko became a single mother of two children born during WWII, and worked as a freelance illustrator to support her family. She traveled widely and was involved in many leftwing social justice groups, which allowed her to resist harmful Japanese imperialist ideology. Tomiyama Taeko’s thinking further evolved as she became involved in different social justice movements, most notably feminism and anti-imperialism. Her involvement with politics went hand-in-hand with her artistic work. 

Working in many different mediums, including oil painting, printmaking, and collage, Tomiyama Taeko’s work recalls her experience of colonisation by the Japanese Empire and WWII, and specifically about the complexity of remembering painful Japanese and Asian histories. Her work is impressive for grappling with how we can simultaneously be perpetrators and victims, as it is an emotional and reflective look at her life and how it intertwines with history. Her acknowledgement of colonial violence was ahead of her time, as well as her raw honesty about her complicity in Japan’s colonial empire as a child. Tomiyama Taeko devoted her life to highlighting these social issues, as well as giving voices to marginalised folks such as ethnic minorities and women. While at first glance her works appear pleasant, they draw the viewer in as they begin to unravel their darker meanings. Her work cuts across mediums and styles, often featuring bright colors and bold figures. Over time, her work gradually became less literal and filled with metaphors such as sly foxes, puppets, and images from Asian folklore.  

Her impressive body of work reflects on national identity, the price of war, and the process of grief through remembrance.