Posted:Jun 18, 2007

Interview with Misaki Kawai

Misaki Kawai is currently showing her work with Taylor McKimens in the “Boroboro Dorodoro” exhibition at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art.

Her drawings and papier-maché installations are a chaotic world of cartoon characters: it’s a ‘cute’, entertaining world that feels like Sesame Street has been remixed by MTV, but there is also an air of uncertainty within it, as the characters she is depicting are a bit lost.

How does it feel to be exhibiting in Japan for the first time?

It’s very exciting! This is my home country and yet I’ve never had a show here before! It’s great that my friends and family can come to see the show and it’s also easier for me to communicate with people in Japanese.

Photo courtesy of the artist

The world in your work is very irreverent and childlike. Without meaning to put labels on it, I can’t help but thing of it as being “kawaii (cute) with attitude”. What do you think about Japan’s “kawaii” culture?

Everything has a balance of good and bad to it: for example, Hetauma (a graphic design style or trend that can be translated as “clumsy skill”) for me is ‘bad, but good’. I think most of Japan’s “kawaii” culture is just cute; it’s very easy for people to like what comes out of it. I don’t find anything particularly shocking in it. But when something looks cute but has a funny or weird aspect to it, I think it’s really special. That kind of cuteness has a very strong character.

Photo courtesy of the artist
There are so many farts and explosions in your drawings! What’s going on?

I love action! I love Jackie Chan! He is my sensei… I want to meet him before I die!

Your drawings are part doodle, part cartoon, but that narrative is different from the sequential way it would be presented in a comic. How much is cartoon culture important to you?

In Japan, manga is everywhere in our daily lives, even in the drug stores! We even have manga history books and biography books! When I was little, I read Doraemon, Ninja Hattori-kun and Obake no Q-taro and so on, but I was never all that crazy about manga.

Your work has an intriguing mix of a Japanese and American feel to it. How have the two cultures affected you?

Well, first of all, I’m Japanese, so that influence is just there from the start. If I had never come to New York for my art, I don’t think my ideas for my art would have evolved to work on such a large scale. I live and work in New York now, so I take anything that I find interesting from either culture. Moving between America and Japan lets me see the good and bad sides of both countries. It would be my dream to take the best of both and make a new country somewhere in the Pacific Ocean…

Installation View
Installation View
Photo courtesy of the artist

What are your next projects after Japan?

I’m doing solo shows at the Clementine Gallery in New York, the Royal Gallery in Stockholm, the Perugi Gallery in Italy, and I’ll be showing at the ICA in Boston in March.

Misaki Kawai’s Website

Ashley Rawlings

Ashley Rawlings

Ashley Rawlings was the editor of TABlog from 2006 to 2008. More information about his work can be found at