“Our Road” has come to announce their first overseas exhibition by a leading Japanese dyeing artist Ken Arai and textile artist Kiyo Masuyama who has been granted a sponsorship and exhibition opportunity by Consulate General of The Republic of Indonesia in New York. Their 30 year-long creative activities at the studio in their beloved Indonesian island of Bali and preservation of the traditional techniques of Batik and Ikat via artworks were recognized.

This solo exhibit, which will be held at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Manhattan this month, would represents the culmination of the work of the renowned duo, alongside the premier Japanese textile artists who have been active for over half a century. The works to be shown would trace the dynamic contours of their careers, from their earliest works to their latest pieces.

In this present age of trendy clothes, few people ever stop to think about where the fabrics that we wear originate.

Active during the post-war period of Japan’s rapid economic growth, Arai and Masuyama began to harbor doubts about the way society is engrossed tending to increased “efficiency.” Seeking to return to the roots of the craft, they traveled to regions around the world in which primitive artisan traditions still survived. In Indonesia, they discovered batik (a form of wax resist dyeing) and ikat (a form of tie-dyeing) techniques that date back hundreds of years.

These traditional methods, slowly disappearing from modern society, involve, in the case of ikat, binding individual yarns and then tying them together. The fabrics are dyed with natural knotweed (indigo) and madder growing on the island, and the dyed yarns are then rinsed using the powder of ground nuts. A splash pattern is then woven using a backstrap loom. To produce these fabrics, artisans must first wait for the plants in the fields and forests to bear fruit. For batik, which uses wax in the dyeing process, high concentration is required as each piece is dyed by hand. It is observed that only a limited amount can be produced per day, making it a time-consuming effort that requires patience.

This “inefficient,” primitive production process yields creativity and a vitality shared by the people living there. The duo realized that the process of creating artwork is closely tied to the way people live in tandem with their local region and the integrated culture that exist in the local region. They developed a strong interest in using artistic creation to convey the values inherent in specific cultures and share a spirit of serenity with the viewer. Furthermore, as foreign artists adopting these traditional techniques in their craft, they hope to contribute to the economies of developing countries and to the preservation of their traditional heritage.

“The wave of modern efficiency is reaching the shores of the various islands that welcomed us with open arms and taught us so much,” says Masuyama. “By having us, as foreign artists, adopting these traditional methods, we can strengthen the islanders’ inhabitant to rethink their worth and perhaps do our part to protect the local culture and customs.”

The exhibit features a range of works that are a testament to that passion. In New York, sustainable fashion is gradually growing as a hot topic. We look forward to seeing how the artists’ work resonates with locals.

Ken Arai and Kiyo Masuyama met while students at the University of Arts, Tokyo and were happily married in 1967. The duo is known to be mutually stimulating each other’s creativity towards excellence and with Arai pursuing dyeing while Masuyama pursuing textile forms. The duo has continued to produce remarkable and commendable work into the present.

For many years, Arai was a lecturer in the Textile Design Research Department of Joshibi University of Art and Design, training the next generation of artists. He retired in 2003 and continues to produce works that make dynamic use of space. Since the 1990s, he has produced batik art (a traditional form of wax-resist textile from Indonesia) in Bali and Japan.

Masuyama has been active as a modern ikat artist, while also conducting research in the 1980s into contemporary craft and Art Nouveau in Europe and in the 1990s into primitive textile culture found in Indonesia and the tribes of West Africa. In 2012, Masuyama donated her personal collection of 220 ikat and other precious fabric pieces to the Sato Memorial Art Museum, Toyama. Collectively, these items comprised the Masuyama Collection and are in the permanent collection of the museum. She received the Order of Culture in 2012.