My Fusuma-e

Diary 2008.10.29

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Today I finished painting my 20 fusuma-e pieces– 10 screens front and back. They will be used for karakuri shows by the Sakura Puppet Theater in Kamiyama.


Fusuma-e screens were widely used in Tokushima in ningyo joruri, traditional puppet theater performances as backdrops but have been abandoned in favor of other forms of entertainment around the nineteen thirties. Kamiyama has a collection of 1500 antique fusuma-e screens that were created mainly by itinerant artists passing through, some of them still in use by the Sakura Theater.

There is a special show called karakuri usually 30 minutes long played in the intermissions of traditional puppet plays in which the players perform visual tricks with sliding screens called fusuma-e. The screens are arranged on tracks in rows behind each other and are revealed or hidden in turn to create simple yet effective optical tricks, visual illusions. There are various kinds of mechanisms that are at play in a karakuri show. Screens slide, drop, turn, flip, scroll. It’s like an old Hypercard stack that creates the illusion of space and motion.

The antique fusuma-e screens I’ve seen so far depict traditional scenes: wild, domestic or imaginary animals, birds, the sea, shogun castles, blossoming trees, courtyards, house interiors, gardens and abstract patterns. The screens I’ve created are part of the smallest set that is used in the back of the stage. Usually a traditional room is shown then the back wall of the room drops out and an abstract pattern appears where the back wall was. With a flip of the two bamboo rods on which the fusuma-e paintings hang the screens flip and the abstract pattern seen on the front of the screens is changed to another abstract pattern painted on the back side of the same screens.

I painted large, colorful, easy to read faces that jump into view once the back wall of the room drops. When the bamboo rods are flipped the faces change expressions. A happy face changes into a surprised one, a pouty face into a scared one, tongues are stuck out and eyes are shut. I imagined an old fashioned carnival or circus, with bold hand-painted signs. These were popular outdoors mass entertainment in villages throughout Europe or America in the way fusuma-e karakuri enchanted Japanese audiences with outdoor performances.

I was also thinking of the transformation puppets in ningyo joruri– from beautiful uyound woman to fox, from young wife to demoness.

I believe these are the first fusuma-e screens that have been painted in Kamiyama since the nineteen thirties and they clearly look very different from the existing antique screens, yet they will be shown together, which I find a very exciting combination. Viewers will see my faces appear in the setting of a traditional Japanese room, adding an element of suprise to a show built on surprise.


I was wondering what an entirely new, contemporary set of fusuma-e would look like. It would be great fun to paint a whole set one day.

What I like about fusuma-e is that while they are puppet theater sets they also work as stand-alone paintings, and when used in karakuri shows they become simple, analog, done-in-front-of-you-as-you-watch animations.

The Kamiyama Artist in Residence show opens on November 2nd and will be on display until November 9th. My work will be shown at the Old Sake Factory on the main street of Kamiyama and will include these fusuma-e screens, the projected Heart animation, artist’s book Heart, artist’s book Manga, one of a kind pop-up Still Water, one of a kind pop-up The Visitors, the Postcard Project, images from my sketchbook and the model cities and forest I built for Manga and Still Water.

Hope to see you at the opening!
The Sakura Theater in Kamiyama is planning to present a fusuma-e karakuri show on Sunday, November 2nd the day of the opening after which the fusuma-e screens will be on display at the Old Sake Factory.

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KAIR2008 Artist

Articles by Andrea


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