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  In the stillness 04 - Background of 'Investigation of ikat formation in Yaeyama, Ryukyu'
Naomi Ota, 2004
included in CD Rom "the space between textiles_art_design_fashion", Volume 2 Papers & Visual Presentations, ISBN 0-9752106-2-9

The presentation is a fibre sculptural installation. It shows an interpretation of some particular issues of 'space', whichI've been developing through research into formation of Yaeyama ikat design (Yaeyama archipelagos belong to Okinawa and the southernmost district in Japan) in conjunction with the historical exchange in textiles between the area and South East Asia. I interpret this long process of ikat transformation by referencing slow-growing coral shapes that represent 'stillness and growth' at the same time.

I also examine 'spatial structure' of Taketomi Island to investigate the aesthetics in Yaeyama. The sense of emptiness seen in the space and the ikat design appeals to me as a fundamental aesthetic based on people's life rather than Zen philosophy which is often invoked to define the notion in Japan. By incorporating these opposing elements, 'stillness and growth', I intend to create a primary or neutral image of emptiness.

Fibre, installation, ikat, culture, space

Statement - 'Investigation of ikat formation in Yaeyama, Ryukyu'
Background to the research
The journey of the ikat begins in India. A woman wearing an ikat cloth is seen in a wall painting in the Ajanta caves. On its journey to Southeastern Asia, the ikat flowered in every place it arrived, influenced by locally developed techniques and designs. After a long journey, the ikat was introduced to Ryukyu (the name of the kingdom before it became Okinawa and also the contemporary name of the area), the southernmost islands of Japan in the tropical latitudes, in the 14th or 15th century. It was from South East Asia, possibly via traders of Malacca or Southern China. The actual place of origin and the design of the ikat that came to Ryukyu is unknown. In those centuries when ocean trade was flourishing, the Patola ikat, originally made in Gujarat in India, was highly appreciatd in broad areas of South East Asia and the design strongly influenced the weavings of that area. However, it seems that it didn't influence the Ryukyu ikat. There is a significant difference in ikat design between South East Asian countries and Ryukyu. In particular, the Yaeyama jofu, ramie ikat (produced in the Yaeyama archipelago, the southernmost district of Japan) represents the cool elegant elements of Ryukyu ikat characteristics. It has a refreshing white colour - the so called 'White Ikat' - along with the moderate ikat pattern that sets it off.

I have been investigating the background of this transformation in design. It includes investigation of the textile history in Yaeyama and Ryukyu, and the trading relationship with the South East Asian countries. In terms of examining the aesthetics of Yaeyama, I focus on "the structure of space", particularly of that in the Taketomi Island which was once the centre of Yaeyama and is designated as an Important Traditional Buildings Preservation Area by the Japanese Government. The island is about 400km southwest of the main island of Okinawa, and is known for its reserved rich culture including weavings.

I re-visited the island in 2003 for my preliminary research and observed a strong relationship between the ikat design and the spatial sense of the island. Taketomi is a small island with a perimeter of only 9.2km and population of about 300. In such a small island, there are 28 Utakis (the sacred groves, Ong in the local language) all together including six ancestral Utakis - called Muuyama (six mountains) - and four Utakis as guardian deities of the island. The 'space' of the island consists of the Utakis as essential elements and with others such as pathways covered by white coral-sands, old wells, stone walls, historical spots etc. The structure of space has been established not only for their environmental convenience, but also for them to comfortably fit in with nature according to their beliefs and historical or political issues.

I also observed the aesthetics of emptiness and its philosophical background as an important element in examining the design of the Yaeyama ikat. The Utaki is non-decorative, rather empty and neutral, but a powerful space. While a notion of emptiness is often understood with the concept of Zen Buddhism (a philosophy appreciated only by particular classes), the emptiness or subtlety seen in the Utaki and Yaeyama ikat design indicates more fundamental aesthetics based on people's life.

Seiichi Murayama, a socio-anthropologist describes, with the word "socio-symbolic order", how each race, culture, community and village has been visualising their religious cosmology within their geological environment. I believe a textile as a symbolic social item is inevitably linked to deeper layers of cultural cosmology. Penetrating the code that links a textile design and its comprehensive environmental background does not necessarily mean to analyse accuracy of a particular textile in its traditional value. I rather intend to draw out a universal method of reading out an intellectual and cultural value through textile.

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