"I appreciate craftsmanship in design, as well as balance in form & structure. I admire the sophisticated & understated beauty of Japanese design elements." - Elysha Rei
a passionate, multi-media artist specialising in hand-cut paper works, it is a pleasure to introduce Elysha Rei. we chatted recently during her activation with Brisbane City Council in Fortitude Valley.
the activation showcased a collection of works created during her artist residency at the Museum of Brisbane, while a glimpse behind the wall shared insight to works in progress for her upcoming solo exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery.
week by week, additional pieces made their way across the studio walls, splashing dreamy silhouettes left & right. a truly interactive experience.
during our shoot Elysha adorned her mother’s wedding kimono, a nod to her cultural heritage that informs her practice. a huge thanks to Elysha for letting us into her creative world, here she is.
tell us about your cultural heritage & how that inspires your practice.
"my maternal grandmother is Japanese & our family has an amazing modern & ancestral history that continues to inspire me & my practice. my grandmother met my Australian grandfather in Japan after WWII, where they married & had my aunty. once the White Australia policy changed in 1953, they moved to Australia where my mother was born - in fact she was the first baby born to a Japanese War Bride in Queensland. my research & conversations with my mum & grandmother over the years has made me realise what a pioneering time this was. upon return from Japan I know my mother experienced a lot of social stigma as her father was seen as marrying the enemy at the time. the sentiment towards Japan & Japanese people after the atrocities committed during the war took a long time to heal, so during this time my grandmother tried as hard as she could to assimilate into Australian culture. as a result my mother wasn't as exposed to her Japanese heritage as much as she may have been today. I feel it is part of my duty as the next generation to preserve this part of our maternal heritage by connecting through language, tradition, custom & aesthetic found within my work.
further back in our family's history, my grandmother tells us we have Samurai ancestry dating back to the 17th century. Katagiri Katsumoto is the name of our ancestor who also happens to be one of the famous seven samurai in the battle of Shizugatake (which was adapted into the Western version The Magnificent Seven). I was last in Japan 2 years ago on a pilgrimage to visit the places my grandmother told me our ancestor came from, as well as her own history meeting my grandfather. when I was over there visiting a museum about Samurais, I learnt that in fact Katagiri Katsumoto is my great great great uncle (instead of grandfather). he didn't have any children but his legacy was passed onto his younger brother Katagiri Sekishyu, who turns out was a Tea Master famous for coining the tea ceremony used between feudal lords & samurais as a diplomatic exercise. I'm still trying to catch up & learn about him as much as I can since finding this out."
describe your personal aesthetic & who influences your style.
"my personal aesthetic is heavily influenced by Japanese culture as a way of connecting with my family's heritage. I adore wearing heirloom items handed down by my mum & grandmother & have beautiful Japanese objects decorating our house. I appreciate craftsmanship in design, as well as balance in form & structure. I admire the sophisticated & understated beauty of Japanese design elements."
walk us through a day in your studio.
"I always try & leave my studio with something unfinished so I know where to start the next day. I believe this helps me maintain momentum especially when I am focusing on a big project. I enjoy working in the studio with a huge pot of genmaicha tea (green tea with rice), which my entire family loves to drink. I listen to different playlists or music genres & try to settle in for a while. funnily enough I haven't had a proper studio for quite a number of years but have been lucky enough to have residencies & pop ups generate the time & space needed to complete projects. when I'm not in a makeshift space my working studio is at home with my family - either on my drafting table & desk or taking over the living room wall when I need to do something large-scale. as I've been a mum for most of my artistic life, I've learnt that embedding my practice with my life has made it easier to make work, & also allow my son to grow up amongst my artistic endeavours. I enjoy having a space that is close to my family."
what’s next for you & your creative practice?
"despite COVID-19 putting a few plans on hold or cancelled altogether, the latter part of this year is shaping up to be quite exciting. at this point a long-term project with Brisbane City Council is in its final phase of fabrication & installation which will see a series of public art works put into Wilston Village. this will include a series of light-up balustrades, sandblasted pavement patterns & nighttime projection works that feature unique designs inspired by heritage-listed architecture & native flora from the area. I'm looking forward to seeing these ideas come to life.
in November I will also be having a solo exhibition with Noosa Regional Gallery, exhibiting works that started to develop during my trip to Japan in 2018. "Furusato: Patterns from Pilgrimage" will feature a series of large-scale hand-cut paper works that map my journey in Japan exploring my grandmother's and ancestral history through patterns documented along the way. the show will open on Friday 13 November 2020."
an honour to hear your story Elysha, thank you.