Towards the last two months of my last visit to India in the spring of 2012, I encountered the Tibetan community in exile in India experiencing painful news of their people self-immolating in fire one after another in China-occupied Tibet. My experiences in the past visits in India (drawing a cremation site in Varanasi, documenting fire pits, cremation alters, and contemplating on life and death around fire) synchronized with this particular movement, an extreme way of ‘offering’ their bodies to ‘fire’ for asking freedom and peace.I could not help drawing large and small drawings as emotional response and with a sense of mourning.

After coming back to Vancouver, the self-immolation kept happening and I felt that my personal and professional task is not finished.

I have come back to India to continue to document and draw under the same theme.

30 May 2019

Statement on Korean exhibitions May 2019

On the exhibitions in Korea                                                                      Tomoyo Ihaya
The works in this exhibition are contemplative journals of one human being’s journeys through India, Tibet, Taiwan and South Korea.

I migrated 20 years ago from Japan to Canada where, while not perfect, freedom of speech, human rights and democracy are relatively protected. I took these rights for granted until I grew close to people who struggled for them and bore suffering and pain as a result. While I do not have the ability to fully experience the sacrifice and pain they have gone through, I feel the urge to do something.

I first went to India in 2005 and fell in love with the depth and complexity of the culture, which inspired my first project on the theme of the cycle of life and death. I have returned, like a nomad, every year since.

Early in my visits, I met senior community members who escaped from Tibet to India during the violent occupation of Tibet in 1959; to this day the suppression continues to happen. This community taught me the power of compassion and empathy, interconnectedness, resistance and a sense of humour.

When in India in 2012, I saw an image of a burning monk on the computer screen at a cyber café and my heart and soul were deeply shaken by the occurrence. Somebody was willing to sacrifice his or her life in such a painful way for the fight for human rights, human dignity and the respect of others. I felt a quiet anger for the injustice and an affection and sadness for my fellow human beings for we are interconnected like woven threads.

I am not sure why, but I could not stop drawings images about the deaths of these people. Each time I learned about another person carrying out the same protest I drew to remember them and in hope that someday nobody would have to go through this personal sacrifice anymore.

My journey of drawing the lost lives of Tibetans has taken me to other locations and countries that have experienced similar turmoil in the struggle for freedom of speech, human rights and democracy. 

Last year (2018), through the hard work of Korean art writer and editor, Jin Yongju, my work that was exhibited in Tokyo and Tsu-City was exhibited in Gwangju Korea at the AHHA gallery.  Through a group of new friends whom I met there with an immediate sense of bond, I learned about the major uprising for democracy that happened in Gwangju in 1980.  It was carried out by a large group of students and civilians and as a result hundreds people (or more than 1000) were massacred. These friends had empathy for my work because of the painful past. I had a loss of words when I visited the cemetery of the victims and activists who were brutally killed due to speaking out for the rights for freedom and democracy. By the end of the visit, I suggested making an art video about Gwangju and humanity.  This visit resulted in the exhibition in Cheonan and Gwangju this year (2019).

This year I was in Taiwan in March to install an exhibition and participate in an artist residency as a part of Born2BeFree Festival.  Similar events occurred to my visit to Korea. On this occasion, Tsung li Yang, a Taiwanese activist for human rights and democratic freedom whom I met at the international conference for peace and democracy in Delhi (2018), arranged for an exhibition in Taiwan. He felt empathy with an art video I produced about self-immolation in Tibet  ‘Eyes Water Fire’ that it was shown at the conference.  During my stay in Taichung and Taipei city, I met a group of people who educated me on the painful post World War II history of Taiwan and the 228.1947 Massacre and the long lasted ‘White Terror’, during which time countless people were arrested, tortured and lost their lives due to an upraising.  Taiwan has obtained a democracy after, however, still struggles to keep democracy and freedom of speech.

I also came to know about a Taiwanese hero known as the father of democracy Nylon Cheng, who self-immolated in a protest in 1980. I visited the museum built in his honour and met with his family.

I have been sensitive, since I was a young, about Japan’s once occupation and violation of human rights in Taiwan and Korea and the unresolved wounds resulting.  However, I did not know about the post World War II struggles in both countries and was shocked and ashamed that I did not know.

The art I have made since 2012 may be seen as social and political because of the subject matters but it is also about transformation and reconciliation or simply, empathy and love in visual language. As well, it is concerned with “the contemplation on the cycle of living and dying “ that is my core motivation for making art.  These elements are acts of protest. Anything made from empathy and love is the best weapon against injustice, greed and violence.

In my works there are many eyes, blue legs and hands, sky lanterns, burned holes, a tree, a little ship, and a warship covered with eyes and sprouts. All these elements are poetic metaphors for the history of humanity in Gwangju, Taiwan, Tibet and all over in the world. The creation of them comes from feeling, witnessing and praying. They represent humanities interconnectedness, hope, the cycle of life, death and new life. As a collective journey, through these images, I would like the viewer to find her/his own poems, stories and thoughts about what to live for and how to live.

I conclude with a phrase by Nylon Cheng:

“Flowers bloom from wounds.”

Like May flowers.

Tomoyo Ihaya

"Gwangju - City of Light" @ 5.18 Archives, Gwangju, South Korea May 17 to June 15 2018

“Gwangju – City of Light” 
@5.18 Archives
Gwangju, South Korea
May 17 to 23 – The first installation
May 24 to 30 – The second addition
May 31st to June 15th – The official exhibition dates *

June 7thThe 159th Meudonsan Sound of a Wind bell concert by the pianist Sang Rog Lee and his friends. I am doing a live painting during a part of session.

*Upon a request from 5.18 Archives that offered the space for the exhibition,
A part of works including a new video was installed for May 17th and 18th Gwangju uprising memorial day ahead of the actual exhibition dates. On May 24th, a few works were added. 

June 7th There will be a concert by the pianist Sang Rog Lee and his friends. I am doing a live painting during a part of session.

5.18.1980 is the significant number for Korean people.
May 18 1980 is the day that triggered a massive democratic uprising by students and civilians in Gwangju, which caused brutal massacre by the dictator government's army force. 

The content of the both exhibitions in Korea include a new art video 'City of Light', new and old drawings and mixed media installation works. I was fortunate to have 4 young artists to compose the video and a brilliant Korean pianist Sang Rog Lee for background music. The project started in September 2018 in Vancouver and the final recording of music composed and played by Mr.Lee was done at Bohemian Studio, Gwangju and finally edited by Myoung Jin Choi and Jung Yun Hwang one day before the partial opening of the exhibition on May 17th. 

Works that I exhibited at the exhibition in Taichung city, which reflect my learning experience about Taiwan's political social tragedies and struggle for democracy, will be on view.

It is a long story how I reached to Taiwan and Korea almost around time is a long story.  The only thing I can say is everything is a result of connections through  
empathetic contemplations on human rights, freedom and meaning of life.

Much gratitude goes to:
All dear friends in Vancouver who helped me with these projects.
Tsung Li Yang and his stuff/volunteers for bringing me to  Taichung city, Taiwan for the exhibition and a residency.
Myoung Jae Lee and his friends for their hard work to put the exhibition together in Cheonan.
AHHA Gallery director Myoung Jin Choi, and the dear AHHA Gallery family in Gwangju.
Seoul Family, Jin Yonju and Cho Yoonjoon
My travel guardian, Tanuko.

Report : "1980518 - Across the Border" in Cheonan, South Korea May 12th to May 23th 2019

“1980518 Across the Border”
@In the Gallery
Cheonan, South Korea
May 13 to May 23

Artist talk May 16 7pm

Report: "Eyes in the Sky" in Taichung City, Taiwan March 17th to April 7 2019

Taichung, Taiwan
“Eyes in the Sky”
@台中市中区再生基地DRF Goodot Village
March 17th to April 7th 2019
Artist talk: April 5  7:30 pm