At the bend of an art gallery in Tokyo, our gaze is drawn to a strange work … Entitled “oppression”, it seems to personify the underworld. This is a print on wood, using a cut trunk and finally engraved. The details are so precise that we need a magnifying glass to observe them. In the center of the image, a skeleton sheds a tear of blood. Shadows of inanimate humans are trapped in a spider’s web as a large eye watches them in the dark sky. But what mind can hide behind such an imagination? The gallery owner calls out to us: “The Japanese woman behind this work is a woman who has suffered enormously in the world of work. You should consider talking to her! “ he tells us. We won’t need more! We immediately contacted her. Here is our exchange.
Dear Mayumi. Thank you for answering our very personal questions. In a few words, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Mayumi Noda. EAs a child, I really liked the art lessons compared to the other subjects I studied in elementary school, middle school and high school. I didn’t like many elements of school life. Is high school a paradise? This is what i‘ve had the chance to believe. I belonged to the art club and it was really fun.
I dropped out of college after two years of study, then I worked in graphics for the video game industry for about two years, and finally I went to take evening classes at a design school. Eight years ago I started taking an adult painting class and learned wood and copper engraving.
Tell us about your technique, how did you choose it?
I started with “CG” illustrations in Photoshop and painted them in acrylics. But today I turned mainly to woodcut. I polish the cross-sectional surface of a branch or a tree trunk, I sculpt an image on it with a chisel, then I apply ink with a rubber roller and finally I print on thin Japanese paper. This allows me to depict delicate expressions in a very small space and make my thoughts easily felt in black and white. The paper is so thin that you have to be careful, but compared to copper prints, wood engraving requires fewer chemicals and fewer tools, it is therefore well suited to home creation.
What was the trigger for this artistic process?
I don’t know how to do anything else. And when we don’t do nothing, we lose one of the ways to communicate our feelings and sensitivity, which lessens our joy of living.
In addition, rather than drawing as part of a job, we can directly and freely create works that resemble us.
If you agree to talk about it… What feelings are you trying to express? Is it related to your personal experience in Japanese society (work, pressure, stress …)
Sometimes I draw something that is important for living in Japan, and sometimes I’m drawing something based on anger that I can’t express otherwise.
Living in Japan as a woman means being persecuted everywhere, at every opportunity.. I have been bullied by boys from early childhood. I was almost forcibly taken in a car by a man, in the metro a man stroked my chest through a newspaper. I have been sexually harassed so many times, on so many occasions … And when I asked my loved ones for help, I was still told: “It’s because you’re cute”, “You have to be careful anyway”, “The abusers smell your smell and want to get closer. “ In short, you should always keep an eye out and despite everything, it is always your fault if something happens. It is impossible to live stress free under these circumstances!
I went to a general national university, and there too I was the victim of sexual harassment by some teachers. In addition, students of the same class had little awareness of the issue of gender equality. I’ve been disappointed so many times I ended up rejecting everything and giving up my studies.
One day a woman from another company joined mine for graphics. She was asked to wash another person’s cup (Note: it is typical in Japanese companies that women are in charge of serving tea to their colleagues. They are thus lowered to the rank of maids). She was also persistently invited to meet this person outside., implied to have sex with her …
I was completely overwhelmed and mentally shocked by this type of situation. It was impossible for me to return to work under these conditions. It made me really sick and I still am today. Via Art, I want to express the indecent character of this society, and I still want to value her. I do it as I loved it so much at the time.
Can you tell us about the work “Oppression” please? The one I acquired and which prompted me to talk to you.
She expresses the pain of having no way out, no means of escape, and it transcribes the system that produces this pain. People who blend into the system will find their place and attack the oppressed who were meant to be their equals. They will in turn become tools for power. But it is important to note that even if you are crushed without being able to escape, you are in pain within yourself. My existence is not nothing. My presence is real.
To conclude on this open-hearted exchange, quwould you like to tell foreign people who read you?
Japan is a peaceful country, it’s true. But the power to restrict freedom of expression is considerable there.. On December 18, 2019, Shiori Ito (editor’s note: a journalist victim of rape whose fight we have told you about to have her assault recognized) won a victory in the civil court. I hope this is the start of a movement that will reverse the repression that exists in all fields in Japan against women.
The power to quell human suffering is constantly working and continues to afflict many vulnerable groups. Those in power should look back a bit to see what is wrong. From now on, the “system” penetrates even in the houses, in our private life, seeking out and targeting those with a discordant voice and those who do not follow suit, trying to destroy them to meet endless control desires. By depriving women and other socially vulnerable people of their privacy and their right to live, removing their doubts and anger towards them and turning them into controversies. We all want to be free to enjoy life without prejudice. Do you think I’m going too far? Perhaps. But I will not change my existence!
– Mayumi Noda
Interview by Poulpy
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