Artist Miya Hannan Explores Japanese Death Rituals & More in Artspace Exhibit, ‘Linkages’

by | May 24, 2018 | ART

The argument about what happens after death is a topic that’s puzzled minds for centuries. Some see it as the very end and others see it as the beginning of a new existence. As we all deal with the thought of death in our own way, one Richmond artist uses her art to show that there are many different ways to look and deal with the cycle of life and death. Miya Hannan finds connecting layers or “linkages” between the two, which led to her upcoming exhibit, Linkages, at Richmond gallery, Artspace Richmond.

Through her journey from medicine to art, Miya Hannan uses her life experiences to create bone-chilling pieces. Literally. Using cow bone, bone ash, and burnt paper, the Japan native incorporates all of this into her unique drawings, installations, and sculptures. The elements she uses plays an integral part in her Japanese culture.

“Bone ash is very, very, very important in our culture because we cremate people…we treat bone ashes as a respect,” she said.

She vividly remembers her first-hand experience with bone as a young teen when her grandfather died. After he was cremated, Hannan and her family picked up his bones with chopsticks, crushed them, and put them in an urn. Ancestor worship is a significant part of Japanese culture, as they believe ancestor worship brings them happiness which is apparent in Hannan’s work. That experience with her grandfather gave her a deeper connection with bone.

But while Hannan’s practice is influenced by Asian death philosophy and rituals, she’s also influenced by her scientific background.

Before coming to the United States, the artist received a bachelor’s degree in medical technology from the school of health sciences, at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, and for seven years, worked at a hospital in Japan. Interacting with patients in a Buddhist country greatly contributed to her perspectives on life and death. That education in science does impact her art, but it doesn’t stop her from paying homage to her elders and belief that the dead are still living among us in various forms like memories, stories, knowledge, and genetic codes.

“Bone to me is an information source…of course it’s a representation of death, but at the same time, it’s alive to me. Giving us so {many} clues about who we are and I like that connection that bone gives us between [the] past and now,” she said.

Creating the pieces with bone wasn’t the most challenging part for Hannan, it was the reactions of others.

“The most difficult part is not necessarily buying or using it, it’s how people react to it… That’s been my challenge to bring my culture which is rooted in Japan, to this country where cremation is still…kind of taboo and kind of scary and foreign,” she said.

She wants to show that there are many different ways to look and deal with the cycle of life and death. As well as make people feel comfortable with death.

“Everybody has to face it. No matter how difficult. I think it’s very important to face this fate so your life now will become more meaningful,” she said.

You can see Miya Hannan’s Linkages at Artspace starting May 25 in The Main Gallery with an opening reception from 6:00-9:00 pm, as well as a closing talk on June 17 at 2:00 pm. Both events are free and open to the public.

Talya Faggart

Talya Faggart

Talya Faggart is a Senior at VCU studying Broadcast Journalism. She enjoys fashion, music, and watching Rick & Morty.

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