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Leiko Ikemura's first exhibition in the UK opens at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Leiko Ikemura, Berlin Horizon I, 2012. Tempera and oil on jute. Studio Ikemura, Berlin, Germany © Leiko Ikemura and VG Bild-Kunst 2021. Photo: Jörg von Bruchhausen.



NORWICH.- Japanese-Swiss artist, Leiko Ikemura, presents a selection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and photography in her first exhibition in the UK, Leiko Ikemura: Usagi in Wonderland. Ikemura has chosen 50 works that span three decades of her career. The exhibition’s dominant theme is the connectivity of all aspects of nature, be it human, animal, plant or mineral, in an eternal circle of life. Through her fantastical figures and primeval landscapes, Ikemura explores fragility, transience and slow evolutionary change – choosing to address environmental issues from an empathetic, global perspective.

Usagi, meaning ‘rabbit’ in Japanese, is a recurrent mystical motif in Ikemura’s work, representing rebirth, fertility and renewal. Her bronze sculpture, Usagi Kannon (Rabbit Bodhisattva of Mercy), produced in response to the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011, emanates compassion, engendering hope rather than despair. Usagi Kannon will stand in the Sainsbury Centre Sculpture Park from autumn 2021, providing a place of refuge to visitors wishing to shelter beneath its generous skirt.

Opening with a section dedicated to ‘Girls’, the exhibition features the artist’s ceramic and bronze figures alongside her enigmatic paintings and drawings from the 1990s. On canvas, her spirit-like figures swoop and dive. Ikemura’s girls are non-specific, ageless, hybrid human-animals: sensitive and innocent. When sculpted in clay, their branching torsos, multiple limbs and fragmented bodies transcend the limitations of the terrestrial world. The exhibition debuts previously unseen cast glass heads and busts, created in the last year, that show Ikemura extending the range of her multi-media practice.

Her atmospheric landscape paintings are cosmic-scapes or ‘psychic maps’. They depict desolate mountain scenes, sparsely populated with otherworldly figures that emerge and disintegrate in an ongoing process of transformation. Through these images, Ikemura reiterates her view on mortality: death is not an end, but a new beginning and is present in everything.

Ikemura is informed by diverse art histories: from East Asian ‘sansuiga’ landscape paintings, religious statuary and calligraphy, to European works by Francisco Goya, Ferdinand Hodler, Odilon Redon, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Emil Nolde and Medardo Rosso. These varied stylistic traditions become melded in Ikemura’s own distinctive language.

Leiko Ikemura’s art appeals to our imagination with its childlike purity. She says: “My message is a visual and sensual one, so the viewer could feel it’s very open to interpretation… The exhibition is not just about the works but making space so people can breathe and be with the works.”

The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures to coincide with the Japan-UK Season of Culture. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue co-published by the Sainsbury Institute and the Sainsbury Centre.










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