Conversations on the Street
In 2006, Arts Beatus presented an exhibit by doll artist Tomoka Ike based on The Tale of the Heike, an epic account of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for control of Japan at the end of the 12th century. This month, Ike returns to Arts Beatus with a much more down-to-earth exhibit. Conversations on the Street is inspired by people she has met, conversations she has overhead, and strangers she has spoken to on the streets of Vancouver, BC.
I spoke to Tomoka Ike by e-mail.
In Her Own Words: Tomoka Ike
You’re a doll artist, which is a rather unusual occupation. How did you become involved in doll making?
When I was around the eight or nine years old, I was making paper dolls for my sisters and friends. At that time, after the war, most of Japanese little girls didn’t have a doll to play with except a temporary doll made by folded zabuton, and of course no fabric to make it with. My paper dolls were appreciated by my friends. When we grew up, we forget about playing with dolls and I got interested in books, but I always felt a little excitement when I read a scene with a doll as in Le Misérable or A Little Princess. I would read that scene over and over. About 35 years ago, I was a mother, a wife, a working woman, with what I felt was a bit boring of a daily routine. I felt like I must do something new, so I tried to find a suitable thing for me to do. I knitted, made hats, and dresses, quilting. It was always with fabric. In 1978, when I was 37-years-old, I went to the book store and saw a book on how to make fabric dolls. There was a gorgeous, lacy, frilled doll on a cover, and I thought, this is it! Since then, I have made fabric dolls a life-long hobby.
You immigrated to Canada in 1980. What brought you here?
I just wanted to go to somewhere I didn’t know yet. I am always looking for new encounters. The first time I stepped outside the Vancouver Airport, it was a snowy and cold day in December. The city was so quiet, Christmas decorations sparkled, it was so beautiful. I strongly remember thinking, I am going to have an original doll show here someday. That dream came true in 2006 when I exhibited the Japanese historical story The Tale of the Heike with 19 dolls at Arts Beatus. That was my most memorable moment in Canada.
Do you make a living creating dolls?
Yes and no. The main reason I make dolls is because it is my passion, my enjoyment, my fate, but of course I have sold a lot of dolls as well. I have also donated to the Children’s Hospital at the Christmas time and presented countless dolls to be adopted by friends all over the world. Now I am a pensioner, but feel like I am a doll artist more than ever.
This exhibit is titled Conversations on the Street. What does the title mean?
As I said, I always like to have new encounters, get new knowledge, meet new people. I find people’s faces interesting and sculptural. I love the dolls, but more interesting are the people. I like to feel people’s hearts from their expression, I like to feel people’s happiness, sadness, warmness, loneliness, etc. I like to say to people, hello how are you today? Those words sometimes lead to a small conversation and a smile, which sometimes then lead to a big conversation and big smile. These dolls in the show this time, they are all strangers to me, people I met on the streets of Vancouver.
In Japan, dolls have a long history and are highly valued, yet your dolls have a very different feel. How did you develop your techniques?
I started from one book. After that, I learned the techniques from craft book and other sources. I used all different kinds of material, as much as I could get hold of. Of course I made a lot of fancy dolls just for display or hugging dolls for children, too. I am a doll artist, but before that I am a live person and I like to feel people’s lives.
The dolls, they are just a piece of fabric, a plastic, a wire and stuffing, but if you put them together and use a little imagination, you can make them alive. If you feel my dolls are unique, you are not seeing the dolls, you are seeing my impression. You are seeing your life.
Have you been downtown during the Olympics? Have you gotten any inspiration for new dolls based on all the people down there?
Yes, I went downtown almost every day. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. I like to see people and feel their emotional energy. Today, I was watching the hockey on the TV, but when Canada got the last big gold medal and the city exploded, I went outside and joined the crazy Canadians.
I don’t know if these crazy, excited people have given me any inspiration for my next project yet. Right now, I am comfortably exhausted from the Olympics!
Conversations on the Street
Featuring Works by Doll Artist, Tomoka Ike
February 5, 2010 – April 9, 2010
Art Beatus (Vancouver)
Located in the Nelson Square Office Tower at 108 – 808 Nelson Street in Vancouver, BC. Art Beatus (Vancouver) Consultancy Ltd. is open Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm and is closed on weekends and holidays. Underground and street parking is available. Free admission.