Kawa: Skin, River and Leather – Story about the people who cannot say their homeland’s name Kawa: Haut, Fluss und Leder – Eine Geschichte über Menschen, die den Namen ihres Heimatortes nicht sagen können

Three women living in a Buraku district, scrub a leather 
2024
4K-Video, 16 min, color, sound

 ** Warning of sensitive content **
This art project contains the theme of suicide, which viewers may find disturbing. Please decide for yourself if you wish to proceed watching.
In Japan in the 10th century at the latest, due to religious values promoted by a mixture of Shintoism and Buddhism, contact with blood, cadavers and corpses was considered "impure" and therefore avoided. These values led to people working in the leather industry and other professions that came into contact with cadavers or corpses being isolated from society and forced to live in secluded areas. Although this status system was abolished by law in the 19th century, "burakumin", people associated with the stigmatised areas or the "unclean" professions, were still discriminated against, especially in employment or marriage. As a result of activist campaigns and the national laws that were in force from 1969 to 2002, discrimination against Burakumin has decreased significantly, but has not completely disappeared until today.
Burakumin are ethnically indistinguishable from the Japanese majority and are indistinguishable by culture, customs, religion, language and name. Publishing the names of "Buraku" (neighborhoods where Burakumin live or come from) is generally prohibited, so only local people can identify them. There are people whose parents are not Burakumin, but who have a "Buraku identity" because they were born and raised in a Buraku area. On the other hand, there are people who, although they were born and grew up in a Buraku area, are not aware of this because it was not conveyed to them in their families. For those reasons, it can be described as an "invisible discrimination problem”.
As an artist and researcher with a background in anthropology, for my master's project "Kawa: Haut, Fluss und Leder – Eine Geschichte über Menschen, die den Namen ihres Heimatortes nicht sagen können", I conducted field research with interviews on the topic of the contemporary Buraku problem and the leather industry in various Buraku districts in western Japan. The project tackles this issue, which has long been a taboo topic in Japan and has rarely been thematized in contemporary art. Based on the research, I created artworks consisting of a performance and video recordings.​​​​​​​
Supported by Interflugs Project Funding 2023

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