Pandemic Projects: Kumihimo Wishes: Current Times by Seiko Purdue
August 20, 2021
This summer, I am celebrating the moment when people’s collective strength, patience, creativity, compassion, and spirit comes together in the public participation project and exhibition Kumihimo Wishes: Current Times at Jansen Art Center in Lynden, Washington, US.
During the pandemic, I have been thinking about the power of “craft” deeply. As a Japanese artist, I decided to share Kumihimo (Japanese rope/cord making art form) with my local community. I made more than 365 Kumihimo kits, each containing a foam disk and 8 strands of natural dyed yarns for people to use and learn on. I wanted to emphasize the number of days, one year, that seemed like a long time to experience the pandemic (even though many countries are experiencing it for almost two years).
Kumihimo has a long history. Traditionally, people use a wooden tool called marudai or a floor loom to make elaborate designs. I once took a workshop in Kyoto at Adachi Kumihimo–it is a more physical experience to weave with a marudai and heavy bobbins. Kumihimo came from China around the 8th century and was used for scrolls, sutras, swords, and armor. During the 19th century, Kumihimo became a necessary item for wearing kimono. Domyo in Tokyo is known as a Kumihimo family business founded in 1652; their obijime (cord for sash) costs more than $200 each. More recently, the foam disc became popular and some people practice it globally. Many people have learned about Kumihimo from the anime film Your Name (君の名は) in 2016. In this project, I only introduced a basic method of 8 strands weaving, but you can use 16 strands. Depending on the color combinations, it is possible to make various patterns.
Many people responded to the Kumihimo project and spread it quickly. Some people offered to introduce it to their friends and families. It went to different states and even overseas (Canada, Italy, Morocco, Serbia, Japan, etc.). I could see that some people spent lots of time on their pieces besides weaving ropes. I got so much energy from people’s positive responses and I am grateful to honor people’s handwork, creativity, and voices in the exhibition.
To add to the individual works made by participants, I also made a large Kumihimo to weave 8 (20 foot long each) kumihimo. Weaving a larger rope using the ropes that are made from the small disks by several people was meaningful. At the exhibition, visitors still can write their wishes on the large disc.
There are so many things that have been coming out from the ground that we haven’t seriously faced or confronted. As a Japanese female artist who lives in the US, I had a chance to think farther during this pandemic, particularly about race, human rights, and freedom. I really wish that people in the world would become more connected instead of fighting. I love the way that craft techniques have been passed from generation to generation and from country to country. It creates very strong ties to human relationships peacefully.