Japanese artist Mari Katayama came to the Michigan Theater Thursday evening as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series to discuss living with her disabilities and the art they have inspired. This event was one of the many scheduled for Disability Community Month at the University of Michigan. About 500 students and Ann Arbor residents attended to listen to Katayama open up about the thought process behind her most provocative pieces.
Before the discussion, Natsu Oyobe, the curator of Katayama’s exhibit at the UMMA, introduced Katayama and gave a background of her work. Katayama was born with a developmental condition and had both her legs amputated at nine years old. She has had a long artistic career in multimedia that started when she was a teenager. Her first solo exhibition in the United States is coming to UMMA later this month.
“Mari started making art to fill the deep gap between her own understanding of self and society,” Oyobe said. “She explores her identity by objectifying her body through art.”
Katayama explored these ideas further during her talk by giving her own perspective through translator Megumi Segawa. Pointing to pictures of her childhood displayed on the screen behind her, Katayama talked about how she struggled with the physical differences between her and other children her age.
“I thought once I amputated my legs, I could wear the same shoes other people wore,” Katayama said through a translator. “Once my legs were amputated, what I had was a reality that was different from what I thought. So, there was a gap between my ideal situation and my real situation.”
Katayama said it is this difference that fueled her art. When she was a teenager, Katayama began painting her prosthetic legs with intricate flower designs. At this age, she was also a model in student-run fashion shows as well as her own photography. Later, she turned to sewing as a form of artistic expression. She explained that her process began by first taking her own picture, then uploading it to a computer and editing it, then printing it on to fabric and then sewing the fabric together. In some of her earlier pieces, Katayama posed with her sewn creations in self-taken photographs.
“The reason why I did everything myself is because I just didn’t want anybody to see me like this, I was too shy,” Katayama said.
In a Q&A segment during the presentation, Katayama was asked about her courage in showing her body in the era of social media and Photoshop. Katayama said she views her body as a material in her art.
“Maybe because I don’t consider these images as myself,” Katayama said. “I’m objectifying my own body and using it as a material. … I’m actually not accepting the way I am, my daughter loves my body, but to me, I still pursue a perfect body.”
Art & Design freshman Nehema Kariuki attended the event and enjoyed seeing the artist behind the work, which she said she does not get to experience often.
“In a lot of artists’ art, you see the art but you don’t see the artists themselves — you don’t see who they are, you don’t see their emotion,” Kariuki said. “It’s nice seeing her in her work and her emotion tied into it.”