The artist says she connects with humanity best through her beautiful paper art.
Ayumi Shibata designs incredibly intricate paper-cut artworks. Often using French printmaking paper, Italian Pergamon paper, and sometimes Japanese handmade paper, she cuts each detail with meditative care. Though she said she feels limited by words and communicates best through her art, Ayumi beautifully explained what energizes her extraordinary work.
How does your environment influence your art?
I was born in Japan and currently live in Yokohama, Japan, after almost 12 years of living abroad. Because Japan doesn’t have many immigrants and is an island, our identity is strong, which was good and bad for me in my early twenties. Sometimes I felt suffocated by the rules of society; it wasn’t easy to express originality and individuality. That was one reason I decided to go abroad and see the variety of cultures and people in the world. Now living in Japan again, I’m learning more about my origin, the origins of our culture, and the foundation of Japanese identity, which is helping me find myself more, express who I am, and add more of my Japanese origins to my work and my world.
You’re currently focusing on beautiful paper-cut artworks displayed in glass containers. Could you tell us about these?
From the idea that Kami (the Japanese word meaning “God,” “divinity,” or “spirit,” but also meaning “paper”) resides within each and every life and object transcending time and space, the Japanese have held a sense of reverence and awe for numerous things and events.
Objects are revered as yorishiro, where the divine spirit is drawn, and this has led to the idea of valuing and cherishing objects. With this nature worship of the Japanese in the background, I make artwork using paper. Convenient and inexpensive paper has been used for numerous purposes as a familiar material that is indispensable to our lives.
This ordinary single sheet of material, however, can be a treasure in which life resides at times.
In the Jar (within the hands of God) is a project I have been continuing since I unveiled the series for the first time in 2016.
The world of paper that unfolds within the glass expresses our human world, the Earth, the universe, and other universes and dimensions. I cut out works while imbuing my wish that we can coexist without forgetting our gratitude and awe for all things and nature that support our lives.
That’s a beautiful message behind your gorgeous work. How did you develop your paper-cutting skills?
I started to make art pieces in 2010.
When I was a teenager, music was the way that I expressed myself. I got into reggae music and sang and wrote songs.
When I moved to New York City in 2007, I started to feel limited expressing myself through language, even in my native tongue of Japanese. I was looking for another tool to express myself: something that I loved and that fit me, beyond language and culture.
New York City is one of the noisiest, most crowded cities in the worlds. People are so rushed; everything goes so fast. It’s an energetic, exciting place, but when I’d get home, I’d need to go back to myself, to my soul, to remember who I was. At that time, I often went to the church and quietly sat, thinking and staring at the beautiful light through stained glasses. There was complete tranquility inside: no car horns, no noise. It was a sanctuary for me. One day, suddenly I recalled a memory from my elementary school art class: We cut black paper and glued colored cellophane onto the back. It looked like stained glasses through the sunlight.
So after many years, I tried to make it again. When I was cutting paper, I forgot time and felt peace and quietness in my mind and soul. I just loved it. Since then, I started to make art pieces with paper. I studied art at the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York for four years. I enrolled in the printmaking and mixed media department under the director and artist Maurizio Pellegrin. His direction and policy—which is to never categorize ourselves, and to freely expand our originality and try everything—helped me develop my technical skill and find myself as an artist.
In 2015, when I graduated, I moved to Paris and got into 59 Rivoli art residency for two years. While there, my life experiences developed my artistic skills.
What are the greatest challenges of your art?
The greatest challenge is keeping myself (my mind and soul) clear and connected to the Earth and the universe. I’m always in progress, living and learning, and sometimes I feel I’m disconnected and lost when I have some worry or painful experience.
And the greatest rewards?
I’m not really good at communicating through words, so I use art as my communication tool to say who I am. The greatest rewards are finding myself, expressing myself, and receiving from others, all by using art as my communication tool. It’s the best communication tool for me to know myself more for myself, my friends, my community, and my world.
What are your everyday inspirations?
My everyday inspirations are all the encounters in my life: my experiences, my path, and my love for all the miracles of life.
What’s one truth you’ve learned as an artist?
Connecting with humanity. No matter how long it takes, find at least one thing that you truly love from the bottom of your heart. Perhaps it’s raising children, taking good care of a loved one, volunteering, cooking, making art pieces, etc.—anything that makes you feel love. When you find it, continue to polish and cherish it. I think it helps bring us back to humanity, to connect our souls to the Earth and the universe.
And the most important thing: Love yourself.