Mythical Dragons Captured on Cloth

In addition to Tenri Cultural Institute‘s language school and numerous cultural events,  it hosts an art gallery that is always home to a variety of wonderful exhibitions ranging from traditional Japanese techniques to innovative multinational displays of modern art. I previously shared my thoughts on the June 2016 exhibit, and the multinational Ink Imagists exhibition. Here I’ll be spotlighting the currently showing Mugen exhibit.

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The centerpieces of artist Chika MacDonald’s textile exhibit are her majestic dragons.

Inspired by a desire to convey feelings of support and hope in dark times in a way that also celebrated Japanese culture and heritage, she embraced the idea of creating art featuring dragons rising or lurking just below some sort of horizon as symbolic guides to a better future. Her dragons are all either looking or moving towards the sun or sky, or facing outward to engage the viewer directly as a reminder and challenge to live in the present while keeping hope for tomorrow.

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MacDonald’s first piece, showing a dragon guiding several monarch butterflies (that could be seen as representing souls) towards the heavens.

The vivd colors and images she achieves are just INCREDIBLE. A lot of her backgrounds are darker colors to both provide great contrast for the subject of the piece as well as represent her previously mentioned themes of hope in the face of despair, yet she still manages to give those dark colors phenomenal vibrance through eye-catching hues.

MacDonald’s dragons are wonderfully distinctive, with carefully done gradations of color in the dyeing and beautiful, intricate details and highlights often in striking metallics that give the tapestries an extra feeling of dimension when they catch the light. They stand out against her deeply colored backgrounds and the combinations come to life in a powerfully evocative way.

I had the privilege of being shown around the exhibit by MacDonald and having her explain various aspects of her art, including some of the details I’ve shared above concerning her inspiration and what she hopes to express through her works. She is extremely friendly and excited about her craft, and it was a joy to discuss it with her. I was quite surprised to discover this is her first exhibit, as the level of detail and vitality achieved in her work belies her level of experience.

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Another highlight Mugen is a gorgeous kimono, the last piece to be finished for this exhibit. It showcases a water element as appropriate to Japanese dragons and has a distinct, powerful horizon separating sea from sky to again emphasize the dragon’s positioning and alignment towards the heavens.

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Beyond just the obvious quality and how visually stunning MacDonald’s pieces are, the exhibit shows an impressive amount of diversity. Differing colors, compositions, and atmospheres highlight each and every piece on display. I love depictions of these types of dragons when done well, and MacDonald’s are fantastic.

In addition, Mugen contains several floral pieces by MacDonald that match the dragons in feel and style and integrate into the exhibit seamlessly. Several of them are done in limited color fashion, which works well in highlighting and conveying the delicate nature of the depicted flowers.

In a fantastic finishing touch, MacDonald decided to supplement her textiles and paintings by asking friends to develop complementary jewelry and scents. A few small vials with delicate scents are placed among the exhibit and can be smelled by visitors, and a pedestal in the center of the gallery show a variety of striking, intricately crafted dragon and floral bracelets and necklaces. These elements, along with a sense of connectivity and progression in MacDonald’s work, bring everything together and give Mugen a real feeling of being a cohesive, complete exhibit.

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Photo with artist Chika MacDonald in front of her (and my) favorite piece of the exhibit.

There is an opening reception tonight (Friday November 4) from 6 to 8pm, and the exhibit will be open until Tuesday November 8.

Definitely catch Mugen at Tenri Cultural Institute in NYC if you can. These works of art need to been seen in person to be properly appreciated, and MacDonald will be present for the entirety of the exhibition. I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunities to not only see this phenomenal art on to display, but also to meet this gifted artist and gain some insight into her process.

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