A little bit of Japan in East London

Recently I visited an exhibition on Mino Washi paper from the Japanese province in Gifu at the Proud Archivist, a restaurant in East London featuring a small upstairs gallery space. Not knowing very much about the history of Washi paper, or Japan generally, I was excited to learn more, especially since it’s recently been listed as on of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list (a google search told me that Mino Washi has been around since the eight century, which is an amazingly long time).

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The exhibition consists of a small section featuring the history, and how its made, which I  had no idea took so many steps. The main feature is a showcase of paper lamps from the middle of the last century through today; it was interesting to see how shapes and styles had evolved over time. Not only is the process of making the paper amazing and intricate, so are the structures which support it to create the lamps– definitely not like those you might find replicated at Ikea! One of the most gorgeous examples though, are the hanging panels of Washi over the dining space and visible from the stairs featuring intricate cuts and some amazing texture.

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It was a lot smaller than I’d expected, and after talking with one of the people working, I found out that they’d originally planned to host the exhibition in a larger, more dedicated space but faced some difficulty with scheduling, and have since had quite a few logistical issues. I was surprised to hear that they hadn’t had that many visitors after the initial opening, and learned that those who did visit were either already interested in Japan or Washi, or came to browse the gift shop a bit.

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Despite a bit of disappointment about logistics, I did enjoy the exhibit, even hearing about how it was created and all of the problems it’s had along the way. Actually, I think I may have enjoyed it because I heard about all of the problems along the way. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in Japan, or Japanese art I suggest checking out if you are in the area if only to see the impeccably designed lamps, and who knows, you may even learn a bit about Gifu’s cultural identity and heritage.

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