An American artist
Masako Takahashi - Interviewed by Robin Mitchell
RM
When did you start to embroider with your hair?

MT
Since 1985 I've had a studio in Mexico, where I often see local women embroidering, and that influenced me. My first embroideries were done in the early nineteen nineties, starting on the pre-printed squares available in Mexican markets. I was especially drawn to the emotional pieces with expressions like "You are my Life", and "I'm Yours Forever"---sentiments that in the USA were considered unmentionable or excessive. I altered the designs, and soon moved on to embroider personal sentiments on domestic items, like tablecloths and bedspreads.
It became obvious that my own long hair was like thread, and by the early 1990's I was embroidering with it on handkerchiefs and silk lingerie, words like "yearning" or "rage".

RM
What made you invent your own language, that unique alphabet?

MT
I wanted to inscribe a universal language, one that could be interpreted individually. When I found a rectangular embroidery hoop, the fabric looked like a piece of paper in it, and I began making "words" with simple stitches. Ancient scripts inspire me. Each "word" is as long as the hair used to stitch it with allows.
An aspect of the work is the urge to communicate, and the difficulty of being fully understood.

RM
What do you mean to convey with the use of Japanese kimonos?

MT
Until recently I resisted the presumption that, being Japanese/American, I should use Japanese iconography. After my father died in 2002, I perceived my personal history in a new way. I wanted to somehow experience that element of my past, and those feelings guided me to use the iconography of the "Zen zero" symbol in the Hair Scan prints and to collect vintage Japanese textiles.
The installation piece "GENERATIONS" is composed of a number of formal black kimono jackets; each represents a life. The number of garments varies according to the installation space.

RM
What inspired your series on mending?

MT
My mother taught me how to darn socks, mend tears in fabric; however, I grew up in a consumer society and seldom mended anything. Now when I see carefully mended cloth or garments, they seem poignant, for the obvious care and thrift implied by the act. Mending creates future for the thing mended. There is so much disaster and waste in the world it seems natural to turn to this metaphor of mending.
At a Kyoto flea market I found rolls of carefully patched vintage kimono cloth. In exhibition, the cloths are installed in ways I hope to convey a sense of time passed and valued, worn, torn but worth mending-- as with the traumas of life, which deserve compassion and care. The addition of hair alludes to the need for human intervention in the act of repairing, mending, being healed.

RM
What made you turn to making the pompoms?

MT
While preparing for the "Liberation" show in Oaxaca, troubled by the triangular shape of one of the gallery rooms (as well as feeling unnerved by the turmoil in the world at that time), I saw a bowl of shocking pink pompoms from Guatemala in a shop. All worries momentarily vanished as I enjoyed their unapologetic, simple beauty. The idea of filling that oddly shaped room with gigantic pompoms came to mind, leading to the installations, the "Pompommeries", in which viewers can walk among the colored balls of squeezable art, becoming a part of that world.