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The Dolls of Junko Narita
Moving Between Reality and Fantasy
I remember the first time that I saw Junko Narita’s dolls was at the old Ippodo Gallery in New York. I think about ten years must have passed since then, but they were displayed on a shelf at the rear of the gallery.
My first impression was that they appeared to be ‘standing’ on their own. This was not simply because they had human form, but rather they seemed be there of their own volition.
They looked quite beautiful, with their strong, distinguished faces and their symmetrical poses, with the fingers of both hands outstretched.
They made such a strong impression on me that I invited Narita to participate in the ‘2nd International Triennale of Kogei in Kanazawa—The Arts-Grounded in Region’ (21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Ishikawa) in 2013 and again in the ‘Taiwan-Japan Contemporary Craft & Design in Flux’ (National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute) the following year. As expected, the works looked beautiful at the venue.
Although the dolls that Narita creates are quite capable of standing on their own, it is better to think of them as forming their own world through the interaction of multiple figures. It is a world that resembles a three-dimensional mandala, but without being governed by the strict rules of the Buddhist scriptures, rather the characters are connected through the tranquil world of Narita’s imagination.
This will be her first exhibition for a while and I wondered what the theme would be. It turns out that she has chosen to depict Monju (Skt. Mañjusri), the Buddhist deity of wisdom, coming down to Earth accompanied by hares. The title is Hares Descending From the Celestial Realm.
I think the hares play the role of Monju’s followers, which is a new interpretation. Furthermore, although Monju is sometimes depicted in the form of a young boy, in this work, it takes the form of an adult woman. She possesses a worldly feel, as if she had walked a long road rather than descended from the heavens, and the atmosphere of the work embracing the present day. She is accompanied by a hare that she holds carefully on her hand, as if it were her child.
This hare, that Monju holds on her hand, is a realistic depiction of the animal, but then the story takes a different turn and we are confronted with numerous imaginary hares who have taken human form. These resemble children and among them are two with their hands together as if in prayer, resembling two cute child hares from a nursery tale.
This method of changing tempo from reality and fantasy can be said to represent Narita’s current stance towards her work while simultaneously displaying the scope of her world view. Having said this, I look forward to seeing the actual works as soon as possible.
Nerima Art Museum