Artist Kahori Kamiya Reflects on the Artistic Side of Bodily Transformation

Interview by Douglas Turner

Contemporary interdisciplinary artist Kahori Kamiya is a New York-based artist whose work spans ideas of the body: its possibilities, limitations, identities, taboos and malleability. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Kamiya shares more with Turner about aspects of her work that have changed over time, including her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a view ahead into what she has in store in 2021 moving forward. Her work can be found on her website: https://www.kahorikamiya.com/

ANTE mag. Thanks for speaking with us, Kahori! So, you’ve mentioned breast-feeding as one important point – referring to its context as an influence on your current body of work, could you please tell us more about this as a departure point in examining this new work?

Kahori Kamiya. My current sculptures and hanging-works are focused on my breastfeeding time. My breastfeeding was an extreme experience: a dual experience between pain and pleasure. For women who don’t naturally produce milk, breastfeeding is an every-two-hours sleepless act of labor, work that is run in a solitary environment.

By stitching thick foam with a long needle, I am re-experiencing my physical suffering during my several mastitis infections, doing so in order to make a abstracted breasts.  Because of its function, shape, and sensation, I felt (breasts to be a separate objects,) another troublesome creature on top of my chest, and I was even calling my breasts as different names of mine. Coincidently, in Japan, ancient people often nicknamed mountains as “breasts”. This comes from the mountain’s shapes and (Japan’s) Animism ideas, and also (as) worship for Mother Nature.

For my ongoing sculpture, I am making a geographic sense of the breast and adding a narrative feature: letting a little toy baby sleep in a cave in front of a snake. The snake has a dual meaning of being poison and medicine.

“Welcome Back” Kahori Kamiya, (2021)
130″ x 110″ x 100″
fabric, wire, thread, chair, foam, paint, fur, wool (image courtesy the artist)

ANTE mag. What does the artist have to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration? 

Kamiya. I tend to offer in my works the opportunity for viewers to experience a mix of contemplation and exploration. For example, my new large sculpture titled Welcome Back (130” x 110” x 100”) is an interactive piece that visitors can sit and listen inside the ruffle sculpture. I am still working on the sound part and my goal of this piece is to connect with the viewers preconscious memories of being secure and cared for. 

For the ruffle cave, I sew a unique synthetic fabric called Tulle to make a ruffle to present a breast milk shower. The lightness and see-thoroughness of this fabric evokes in me a feeling of non-substantial existence, such as I felt as if I was forgotten by society when I was on maternity leave. The shiny sculpture part on top of the chair, I paid homage to the Belvedere Torso. Belvedere Torso is an ancient Roman marble statue that presents masculine male nude. Since all mammals can breastfeed without taking a lactation class or watching YouTube videos, I optimistically thought I could magically do it with my “mother instinct” once I held my baby… however, I was all wrong. Humans seems don’t remember how to breastfeed anymore. As a result, my struggle and awkward breastfeeding posture always evokes for me the Belvedere Torso. You may feel strange that I recalled the macho nude statue as my post-natal body, but the reality of breastfeeding is more like cross-gender intense labor.

I also knit multitudes of nipple-ish mandala circles to attach to the ruffle parts. This idea refers to a Mandala design and meaning of co-healing. One unforgettable memory is that my husband started seeing the dream during his sleep that he also breastfed our baby. It was funny, but he wanted to help me, who was suffering to produce one drop of milk. I also wished that I could have more nipples (so that) then I could possibly get more help.

“Football-hold” (2021) -gallery installation image
73″ h x 44″ w x 46 d
plaster, foam, oil, fabric, wool, wood, photo document, toy (image courtesy the artist)

ANTE mag. What are you currently working on, and what can you share that is upcoming for you?

Kamiya. By using a hybrid technique, such as modeling, collaging, painting, sewing, knitting and embroidering into my sculpture, I am interested in transforming Mother Nature and my own reality of motherhood into my work. For example, I like to paint the motherhood gesture/left-over, such as blemish, spilling, scribble, stamp, and stretch marks onto the surface of sculpture. Also, the scribble-like-signs are reminiscent of numbers that I tracked in terms of the amount of breast milk and baby weight every day. At that time, those numbers were very emotional to me.

With continuous wiping and scrubbing motions with my paints, I try to catch a moment of being beautiful. Like how Robert Rauschenberg talked about his process of making art and his materials, he mentioned “Artists are almost a bystander while (they’re) working…”. Being a good bystander is a captivating part of my art practice. I am challenging myself to seek the combination of painting, sculpture, and possible architecture features with a motherhood theme. For a long time, having children was taboo in our contemporary art world. It’s a challenging topic for me to reveal the reality of motherhood, but I am more excited to share my ideas with viewers and develop my works.

My work is currently on view at Woodstock Artists Association & Museum and will show at Lacuna International Contemporary Art Festival in Spain from July – August. Also, some gallery exhibitions in NY will be up this year. Please follow my Instagram, @kahorikamiya to check out my updates!