Tatsumi Orimoto - Art Mama Diary
“But my art is about communication, not only in the gallery — in the street, in the cafe, everywhere! Bread Man gets many different reactions from normal people, sometimes nice, sometimes not — it is important to this work and it’s part of my art.”
Sometimes the reactions can be violent, like the time he stood on a bread line in New York with loaves of French and German bread tied to his face and had to run for his life as a mob of angry homeless men chased him, pelting him with bottles. A similar thing happened in Russia when he was ordered out of a poor cafe in no uncertain terms.
His conviction was unaltered. A true pragmatist, Orimoto explains, “I understand that these people are very poor, and that I use so much bread . . . but reactions are different in different countries, different places. In Nepal, they are poor too, they don’t understand my art, but they appreciate it — they laugh and clap. Then they want to eat it.”
Bread Man is back in the gallery, this time with “Art Mama,” but this does not mean that his work is no longer controversial. Many at the opening questioned or were disturbed by the use of his deaf and Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, Odai Orimoto, 82, in an emotive performance titled “Art Mama in Big Shoes.” Wearing outsized, clownlike green papier-ma^che shoes, Odai walked slowly and awkwardly on walking sticks through the crowds gathered on either side of her, then sat in the center of the big room, waving and saying “Thank you, thank you” as the audience clapped and cheered.
Some felt that Orimoto was exploiting his mother, with whom he lives in Kawasaki, and exposing her to ridicule. Others wondered if he was being sensationalistic or implying that it was a burden to look after his mother.
It is not difficult to read “Art Mama” in this way, particularly in light of the display in the lower gallery of large photographs of Odai and her two neighborhood friends sitting with tires around their necks. But such a reading would be a complete mistake; the performance was simply intended to prompt people to think about their own parents and old age.
“My mother and I, we have good communication,” Orimoto says. “She’s my only mama . . . she got sick and she cannot hear so I have to take care of her and we live together. When I am not here my brother and home helper look after her.
“Does my mother understand art? Maybe not, but she believes in me 100 percent, and my art too. She loves me. My father was very shy, my brother too, but my mother is like me. We have the same face, the same character.” Criticism for having his mother wear tyres around her neck or a box on her head (another “Art Mama” prop) is way off the mark, he says. “My mother is very small, so the box gives her height. I gave her the big shoes because she told me that when she was very small her family was too poor to buy her shoes, and when she went to school the teacher just stared at her old shoes and she felt very ashamed. Then I presented her with the big shoes in a box!"
“I used the tyre in my first action with Mama. I had visited my mother’s friends with her so many times; that generation, they worked so hard, their necks are stiff and sore and now they are forgotten. Young people today throw away everything. I found those tyres as garbage in the park, so I took them home. They are a symbol of garbage. The young generation forgets about garbage, and also about my mother’s generation — both are the same: People are not interested now.”
This deeply affecting show is Orimoto’s tribute to old age and the elderly, who are normally kept hidden and out of sight. It is also a loving homage to his mother, the source of his inspiration, to whom he gives a strong voice and a place at center stage. - Jennifer Purvis The Japan Times.
“Is what you see what I see?”
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