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Yukinaga Chibana (Ginowan City) Opens Up New Possibilities of Bingata through Collaboration of Traditional Crafts and Pop Culture
post : 2018.11.19 22:00
There’s a young man in Okinawa who oversees the traditional Bingata dye studio which he took over from his mother, and who also leads the brand, Bin Okinawa which brings the Bingata to today’s lifestyles. He does this while working as an artist to spread Bingata in the wide and wonderful world of art. Meet Yukinaga Chibana of Bingata research and studio, Somesenka, located near the Kakazu hill which commands a view of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
“Bin Okinawa is a brand founded with the hopes of nurturing interest in Bingata even among the younger generations. When I came across creative designers with lithe ideas and inspirations, I felt that maybe as a team, we can create a new world of Bingata. From the standpoint of our brand, the view of our world of design reflects the essence of pop art, subculture, graffiti and other such street culture that I personally saw and experienced. For the younger generations who perceive Bingata as “something we don’t really understand, and isn’t very cool,” or “they’re souvenirs for tourists and are irrelevant to me”, we bring together the sense of style and tastes that will stimulate them.”
Mr. Chibana also explains that he always enjoyed drawing as a child, and through his mother, he grew up very familiar with the world of Bingata. After graduating high school, he went on to study dyeing and weaving at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts. He learned various stencil dyes. Besides studying, he also started a band. The genre: hardcore. He started with shouting vocals and then on to the synthesizer. He traveled with the band to perform in other prefectures more than a few times. The opportunity to get closer to graffiti and arts through his musical activities increased, and his fascination of the subculture took him deeper and deeper.
He didn’t harbor strong intentions on working with dyes and textiles in his future, and for about two years after graduating art school, he worked part-time jobs. “I was sort of floating around during those years. Eventually, I thought it would be cooler to say that I was a ‘fabric-dyeing artist’ rather than a ‘part-timer’ whenever people asked me what kind of work I did. That’s how vague I was in entering this world and working at my mother’s studio. Of course, now, I’m much more serious,” he says openly, in a care-free sort of way. I got the impression that it was this aspect of his style that made the man he is today.
“My passion was lit in the second year I started working at the studio. When I first started, I was just imitating my mother’s work. In hindsight though, that did me a lot of good. It was around 2013 when an exhibition called Crafts & Creations was held in Koza, at Plaza House. I had the opportunity to display my work that I created while in art school. It was a stencil dye which was 3 meters in width and 1.8 meters in height, with motifs of a bird’s nest fern. Then I got an offer to have it displayed at Moon Beach Hotel for 3-4 months. From there, a Bingata artist, Hiroji Kinjo saw it and contacted me, and that’s how we made a connection. It was also around that time when my mother said, “Create a world that you want to create,” and gently pushed me forward.”
There are other subcultural aspects that have influenced Mr. Chibana. He says, “I definitely have been influenced from manga that I’ve loved for a long time,” and tells me his favorites are Hi-no Tori by Osamu Tezuka, and the more recent, BLAME by Tsutomu Nihei. “I love the layout, the segments of the manga. That’s why I like to expand and reconstruct them and express myself with Bingata,” he says.
For example, the manga series with the character, Uzume, in Hi-no Tori are works produced in 2015. “Uzume from Hi-no Tori is a goddess from Japanese mythology, in legends like Iwado Kakure. Amano Uzume, the oldest dancer of Japan, is taken as her motif. As you know, Okinawa is an island of art. And the US military bases are very present here. I wanted to express that relationship through Uzume and the rifle in my own work. In the speech bubbles, I write the standards established by the Bingata Cooperative translated in English,” he explains. In the future, he wants to create more solid works and take appropriate measure to approach the Tezuka Productions.
His manga series aren’t the only works he’s created “aimed at people to be interested in Bingata even if they’re not familiar with the art.” His ultimate goal as an artist is to bring Bingata into the world of pop art, where greats like Shepard Fairey and KAWS, and the popular Keith Haring continue to contribute to the progress.
This unconventional work is created with classical patterns aside from the schoolgirls and their sailor uniforms. “What can I do to have people who aren’t interested in Bingata to take interest to see my work, and how can I deliver this overseas? In response to such pursuits, what I came up with was this series; to mix in the world of comics and classical designs. I’m not the first to do such a thing. Just like how Evangelion’s weapons were created by traditional swordsmen, I referred to those things and believed that I can express myself with Bingata,” Mr. Chinen explains. This inspiration led him to complete the Panchira Series in February of 2017.
He asked an animator friend to draw the schoolgirls which are the main motif for the series. “I understand that it’s seen as a taboo to fuse tradition with subculture. But that’s what I want to do.” Just as Japanese animation and the concept of “kawaii” are now global, I believe Mr. Chinen’s works will also transcend borders. His challenges are full of hurdles but his aim is on the mark, and once his aspirations are received, I believe more and more people will come to understand his work.
“Some may think that the creation of such a pop artwork is simple and easy, but for those who know, they’ll surely see that they are created with complex steps,” Mr. Chinen explains with an expression that shows his strong beliefs. He took out another work and said, “I have another series that I started,” and showed me his creation which hasn’t been made public yet. “I named it the ‘Ryukyu Identity Series’ and is an animation work. The character is completely original and the girl is named Senko. The theme is based on the concept of see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.” This series is set to be announced shortly and he explains the theme is inspired from the culture of Okinawa which continued to revive even after the invasion by Satsuma at the start of the 17th century, and from the Battle of Okinawa in WWII. Hidden in his works are new possibilities, expressed with a free and borderless sense of art.
That said, though, there are artists like Yuken Teruya who are well-known in the art world, but for Mr. Chinen, who’s pioneering his way by collaborating with aspects of subculture, there must have been times when he was unsure whether to continue this direction. If something had freed him from his doubts and worries, it must have been the design award he received for his work (below) in the 2017 Okinawa craft exhibit. The main motif is the indigenous and endangered species of Okinawa, the Yanbaru Kuina, shown with woodland camouflage design. This symbolizes the younger generations of Uchinanchu, or the Okinawans, who grew up with influences from the American culture. The geometric patterns and the concentrated lines seen in comic art are combined with traditional designs to create something very new.
“This piece was actually created from seven different stencils and is quite complex, and my intention was to finish it with a contemporary classic touch. The Iju flower is my mother’s design, and I’ve brought together other patterns which were also my mother’s and from artists from generations before me. I’ve also meshed in aspects of the culture being handed down the generations. It expresses the trials and tribulations of the younger generations who inherited the traditions and classical designs and are trying to make them their own,” Mr. Chinen tells me with a smile.
Something new isn’t the only thing he’s pursuing, though.
“The Bingata pieces we create as Someisenka are mainly obi sashes necessary for kimono, and we also make tapestries. These are created in the traditional methods passed down to me via my mother. Classical motifs are used and my mother’s original designs have been carried on into the pieces. We are true to the basics but just as it was in my mother’s generation, the creations of design are mostly original and are very unique. The pieces are also expensive and it’s not easily affordable for many people. But because each piece is one of a kind, there is a strong following for our work by those who cherish Bingata.”
Okinawa’s world of crafts is seeing great progress and movements led by the enthusiastic younger generations born after the reversion to Japan in the 70s. It’s exciting to see the new buds in the world of Bingata grow further and to show us the flowers they will bloom and the fruits they will bear in the future.
◎ Works available for purchase on-line.
◎ Introductory workshops and classes for Bingata dyeing available.
Address: 3-16-7 Kakazu, Ginowan City, Okinawa
Website: http://somesenka.com/en/ (Somesenka, Bingata Research)
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda