Handbags hold uncomfortable truths

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Handbags hold uncomfortable truths

There is a jarring sense of irony in Japanese artist Mamiko Taira’s work.
Whether it’s hand-woven wool or sparkling beads, the former fashion design student’s objects often imitate feminine handbags made of light, delicate materials.
But there is always an element of disturbing truth present in Ms. Taira’s bags, which stops the viewer from enjoying the playfulness of her imageries, as they often fill themselves with stories that deal with the artist’s personal history with pain and anxiety.
She makes these stories explicit by posting an excerpt from her diary next to her work on the gallery wall, detailing her sources of anxiety and moments from the mundane reality of her life, which distracts from the objects’ aesthetics.
The beads become a metaphor for tears; the holes become a symbol for loss and a sense of longing.
In her first solo exhibition in Seoul at the Gallery Factory, “My Style, Your Style,” Ms. Taira is featuring 10 bags and a separate installation.
In “The First Step into the Island of Bali,” she uses a fabric dyed in mild red to symbolize the blood of victims who died in the terrorist bombings in Bali in 2002. The bag doubles as a map of Bali, and what looks like flowers blooming out of a green prairie actually mark the three sites where the explosions occurred. Plastic beads scattered around the bombing sites seem to juxtapose the terrorist attacks with the fragments of the artist’s fond memories of the island, which we find out is home to the artist’s husband.
It’s hard to imagine a person who is aware of the work’s context carrying this bag to a picnic as a fashion accessory, but for the artist, the work almost seems meaningless without reading the text. The audience can feel that these bags contain the artist’s story ideas, if not a canvas to express her feminine identity.
“I often think about the vague images of reality when I work on the bags, the smell, the color, the shapes and the sounds,” says the artist, 30. “This show is about my personal concerns.”
Ms. Taira’s original background is in fashion. After studying fashion design at the Art Institute in Chicago, she returned to Japan, making her bag series, more to exhibit than to sell.
Even now, “lining,” the artist says, is what she cares about the most among her formal concerns.
Notions of femininity are another area the artist seems to explore in her work. Many of her images are very tactile, filled with shapes that allude to the female organs.
The artist writes in her statement that her works explore notions of family, and how her states of mind have changed after her recent marriage.
Her works, however, seem to speak about relationships in general.
In “Here You Go,” she displays a wall full of pink hands holding letters and photographs she had exchanged with her family and friends. The installation is part of the artist’s graduate show from Chicago, which she made before returning to Japan.
She sent out invitations to her teachers and friends to come to her exhibit and pick up the letters she had written for them.
Some of the letters were mailed to places where she had had particularly good experiences.
With some places that the artist wasn’t able to visit, a lake in Minnesota, for example, she asked a friend in the city to throw the letter in the river for her.
“They are mostly about memories,” she says. “I tried to untwine those wonders through the bags.”

by Park Soo-mee

“My Style, Your Style” by Mamiko Taira runs through Sept. 12. For more information call the Gallery Factory at (02) 733-4883.
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