Kei Imazu

April 24, 2024
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Kei Imazu (b. 1980 Yamaguchi, Japan) is an artist living and working in Bandung, Indonesia who received her BA and MA in Fine Art from Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan. Imazu has held several solo exhibitions at ROH, Jakarta, Indonesia (2018 & 2023); Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco (2023); ANOMALY, Tokyo, Japan (2021); Museum Haus Kasuya, Kanagawa, Japan (2019); and Yamamoto Gendai, Tokyo, Japan (2018). Her works have also been included at Frieze Seoul, documenta fifteen, Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, Paris Internationale, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Art Basel Miami 2020, Mori Art Museum, Yokohama Museum of Art, Aichi Triennale, among others. Kei Imazu is the finalist of Prix Jean-François Prat in 2020.
Can you tell us about your practice?
In my recent works, I’ve been contemplating Indonesia, my home for the past six years. Specifically, I explore the ancient richness of this land, layering various goddess forms and myths that are intertwined with it. I also reflect the impacts of invasions, territorialization, and environmental degradation driven by modern capitalism. I express these themes through paintings and installations. 
My creative process always begins with thorough research. Once I’ve gathered the materials, I contemplate how best to bring them to life. 3D models play a significant role in my work. Recently, I delved into the shipwrecks of Batavia, researching and utilizing various items submerged with those ships that have been 3D scanned and are available online. I combine these elements to create 3D sketches, integrating the rendered images directly into paintings or printing them as elements in installations. 
During my time in Japan, I often depicted paintings based on artworks that now only exist as data, such as those lost to wars, disasters, or theft, with only photographs remaining. This interest was greatly influenced by my experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake, sparking my curiosity about reviving things that had disappeared.
How do you approach the interaction between nature and technology in your art, and is it crucial for you to convey both aspects conceptually?
The use of digital media and oil painting has always felt intuitive to me. When I work with oils, I consistently begin by sketching digitally as part of my process. I then transfer this sketch onto the canvas as a guide for my painting. Recently, I’ve been delving into the placement of objects in 3D space and experimenting with lighting to explore the fundamental composition of my artworks. 
Initially, 3D technology was primarily used for rendering images, but lately, I’ve been pushing its boundaries by attempting to 3D print the created stage. This allows me to iterate in physical space, rather than solely recreating it in 2D. This shift in approach stems from my desire to represent my paintings more tangibly. My work is consistently inspired by tangible elements and narratives, and this exploration of 3D printing enhances that connection.
Could you discuss your research process for this current body of work and what motivated this exploration into historical and mythological themes?
For exhibitions at Jessica Silverman and ROH, I immersed myself in exploring the Indonesian myth of Hainuwele. Indonesia, an incredibly fertile land, has been colonized since the age of exploration; and its natural bounties – particularly spices – have been exploited over centuries. The Hainuwele myth centers on a young girl blessed with the ability to transform feces into precious metals and pottery. Her life is tragically cut short by men who fear her power. From her burial, various tubers, like taro and yam, emerge, becoming vital food sources for the land’s inhabitants. 
Upon researching the history of Seram, the island where the myth is set, I uncovered its discovery in 1921 by the Dutch oil company, Bula Oilfield. Subsequently, the island fell victim to invasion and plunder by the Japanese military in 1942, driven by their desire for its resources. Both the myth and historical events underscore the repeating theme of exploitation and extraction of resources from its land. 
Having relocated from Japan to Indonesia, I embraced Javanese customs during the birth of my child four years ago, by burying the placenta in a terracotta jar. Despite grappling with a lingering sense of guilt over Japan’s past invasions and looting, this act symbolized my own contemplation of regeneration. The intricate intertwining of historical realities and personal experiences serves as the backdrop for this exhibition. Even in current wars that are fundamentally rooted in conflicts over land, women and children remain disproportionately affected.
What are you investigating these days? Is there anything we can look forward to seeing in future works?
Recently, I’ve been exploring the idea of incorporating traces from various geological ages found in the strata of Seram Island into my artwork. In the city where I currently reside, Bandung, there’s a cave known as “Goa Jepang,” which stands as a military relic from the Japanese occupation. Similarly, on Flores Island, there’s a cave called “Liang Bua,” renowned for the discovery of the extinct human species Homo floresiensis. I’m considering the possibility of creating artwork inspired by the interconnectedness of these Earthly cavities, akin to openings that have punctuated the surface of our planet.

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