Ms. Shimura has developed her original style of art, commanding an extraordinarily colorful range of plant-dyed yarns as her visual vocabulary and unleashing her imagination to improvise an infinite resonance of colors over canvases of tsumugi kimono. Through a constant communication with nature and deep meditation, she has cultivated a “tender and flexible thought that advances to weave human existence into nature.”
Ms. Fukumi Shimura started her career as a dyeing and weaving artist after she became inspired by Muneyoshi (Soetsu) Yanagi’s Mingei Movement (the Japanese Folk Craft Movement). Since that time, she has made a profound study of the beauty of tsumugi (pongee) kimono, which Japanese peasant women traditionally wove for everyday use, and she has developed her own original style of art. Commanding an extraordinarily colorful range of mellow plant–dyed yarns as her rich visual vocabulary and giving free rein to her unique sensibility and creative imagination, she improvises an infinite resonance of colors over canvases of plain–weave fabric. Her work has not only broken stereotypes in Japanese tsumugi kimono, but also developed a radically new sense of beauty.
In various parts of the world, the process of making yarn, dyeing with plant-derived colors, weaving, wearing, and passing on memories has been performed without interruption from antiquity. Of all the varieties of fabrics, Ms. Shimura discovered infinite potential in the elegant simplicity of tsumugi.
Kusaki–zome, the Japanese technique of dyeing with various kinds of plants, is the act of “receiving colors” from nature. Ms. Shimura has striven to comprehend the mystery of nature, eventually coming into perfect synchrony with the complicated and delicate life phenomena of plants and perfecting the skills needed to make them manifest themselves in the form of exquisite colors. That, she implies, means to live in accordance with natural providence. Acknowledging the effect of celestial motions on the color of dyes, she works in harmony with the lunar phases, the cycle of the seasons, and the growth and decay of all living things.
“Plants do not yield green dyes. Why is it that the green hue that shows itself when the yarn is pulled up from an indigo jar disappears so quickly?” Asking herself this essential question, Ms. Shimura discovered a clue in the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner. Goethe says that Yellow appears next to the light; Blue appears next to the darkness; and Green appears when these two colors are mixed. Also, according to Steiner, “Green represents the dead image of life.” She encountered these thoughts while extensively exploring color theories around the world as well as the Japanese tradition of coloring, in her quest for this miraculous green plant color. This led her to a conviction that there is a “link with the invisible world” – and the discovery of the secrets of dyeing. The conviction and secrets have been reflected in her numerous works.
Ms. Shimura’s “philosophy of tsumugi,” formed through an intimate dialogue with nature, is a delicate and subtle concept which weaves human existence into nature. As such, it offers us suggestions as to the future course of humankind. Through the beauty of tsumugi backed by such deep contemplation, she pursues the fundamental human value of harmonious coexistence with nature.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2014 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Ms. Fukumi Shimura.
I was born on September 30, 1924 as the second daughter of Motozumi Ono (father) and Toyo Ono (mother). At the age of 2, I was adopted by my uncle (my father’s younger brother) Satoru Shimura and I moved into his home in Kichijoji, Tokyo—an event that I now gracefully accept as destiny. Not a day passed by without me feeling an indescribably profound gratitude toward my adoptive parents. As my adoptive father (then working for NYK Line) was transferred from one location to the next, I also moved through a series of girls’ schools—from Shanghai to Qingdao, Nagasaki to Kobe—all of which left me with many fond memories.
At the age of 17, I came to learn about the circumstances of my birth, and this revelation totally changed my life. Suddenly blessed with a new family—my natural parents and siblings—I felt both confused and extremely happy. Although I was sometimes troubled by mixed emotions toward my adoptive parents, I was also overwhelmed by a world of art that was unfolding before my eyes for the very first time in my life.
During the year in which the secret of my birth was confided to me, my second oldest brother Shinogu passed away. It was in this same year that I first set eyes on my mother’s loom, which was an object of irresistible interest. I had lost my beloved brother but discovered the art of weaving. My oldest brother Motoe had set his mind on becoming a painter and would draw images of the Buddha and churches in blazing vermilion. At that time, both my brother and I were studying art at Isaku Nishimura’s Bunka Gakuin (a vocational school) but Nishimura was imprisoned for protesting against war and his school was closed. This made a very strong impression on me.
In my early 30’s, I got divorced and took custody of my two daughters. On the recommendation of Muneyoshi Yanagi, I decided to devote my life to weaving, in the hope that I would be able to fulfill the dying wish of my oldest brother who had met with an untimely death at the age of 29.
With the realization that I could create an infinite variety of colours from plant-based materials, I was stimulated to imagine how the natural world is structured and to consider how the universe works. This helped me to further expand the scope of my work. I also realized that the traditional colours of Japan had already appeared in collections of tanka poems (Man’yoshu, Kokinshu) and legacy tales (The Tale of Genji) of ancient Japan. It was also around this time that I first encountered the colour theories of Goethe and Steiner, which opened my eyes to new worlds.
Working in the shadow of a rapidly developing modern society in which people think about everything quantitatively, I came to recognize the importance of education that encourages one to delve into the subject of quality. Eager to communicate my experiences to the youth of the next generation by going a step beyond “my own work,” I established a school that is aligned spiritually with one of my daughters, my grandchildren, and my pupils. It is my sincere ambition to convey to young people concepts that are not taught in conventional school education: coexistence with nature, the human spirit, and the awakening of one’s senses.