Hanae Kawai – ambiguity and contradiction

A single thing can harbor a multitude of meanings. Japanese artist Hanae Kawai plays with exactly that, the duality of meanings. She has a deep appreciation for finding the ambiguous borderlines within contradictions. For instance, she takes delight in observing incorrectly ticking clocks because they appear independent. This element of ambiguity and contradiction is something she seeks to incorporate into every one of her artworks, especially here in Leipzig.

Hanae is a master of introductions, adjusting her self-presentation based on her current state of residence. This adaptability stems from the cultural nuances she navigates, particularly in Japan, where the role of an artist transcends the traditional career label and takes on the essence of a lifestyle. In the US Hanae doesn`t shy away from presenting herself as the artist she is. In her conceptual artworks she likes to play with the contradictions and dualities of meanings, trying to get the viewer to grasp her thoughts.

Bridge between two worlds

In her younger years, Hanae had little interest in Japanese culture. Growing up on an isolated and somewhat conservative island, she found herself disconnected from her cultural heritage, and she didn’t particularly appreciate it. However, everything changed when she arrived in the United States. There, she was surrounded by friends and fellow students who proudly embraced their own cultural backgrounds. Their enthusiasm and pride in their homelands inspired her to reevaluate her own perspective on Japanese culture.

At university, Hanae began to actively engage with her East Asian roots. She enrolled in classes and started delving into the study of Japanese culture. In one particular class, she immersed herself in books and essays about Zen Buddhism, which had a profound impact on her. She recognized that the values, manners, and philosophical principles of Zen Buddhism resonated deeply with her own culture, making her appreciate and understand her heritage in a whole new light.

While believing that Eastern and Western art may often appear opposite, her perspective changed when she explored conceptual art. She realized that despite distinct cultural styles and traditions, people from both worlds could appreciate the same level of aesthetic. This insight motivated her to use her understanding of Japanese culture and tradition as a bridge to connect the two art worlds. Initially, going to the US was not her primary plan, the expectation were for her to stay and study in Japan. Her mother was the one who encouraged her to explore studying abroad. Hanae openly acknowledges that Japan, while witnessing a growing interest in the arts, still offers relatively limited opportunities for those aspiring to live as professional artists. This constraint is attributed to the small art market within the country. 

images by PILOTENKUECHE or supplied by artist

Changing her paths

Hanae is currently employed in New York, working as an online research asssistant for Miya Ando. Miya, Japanese American, is a renowned contemporary artist known for her ethereal metalwork and serene, minimalist aesthetic. Hanae brings a unique advantage to Miya’s team, being a native of Japan, and thus, exceptionally equipped to assist with Japanese research. Notably, Hanae has also had the privilege of working for the world-famous Japanese contemporary artist, Takashi Murakami. Takashi Murakami is celebrated for his innovative blend of traditional Japanese art and contemporary pop culture, characterized by his use of vibrant colors and playful motifs.

After completing high school in Japan, Hanae embarked on a journey to Georgia to pursue her passion for painting. During her time at university, she fondly remembers the exceptional classes in conceptual art that were offered. It was in those classes that she found the motivation to shift her focus from traditional painting to the world of conceptual art. Hanae prefers not to overly emphasize her identity in her artwork. In her younger years, she felt the pressure to do so, often creating highly Japanese-themed paintings. However, she realized that many other artists were already exploring this realm, drawing inspiration from Manga and Anime, and she didn’t want to follow the same path. This revelation led her to shift her focus towards a more conceptual approach.

Hanae believes that solely relying on visual elements can restrict the viewer’s comprehension of the artwork. Instead, she aims to place the ideas at the forefront, making them the central point of her artistic expression. The artist also enjoys adding interactivity to her artwork and desires to involve participants in her creative pieces.


Written by Tess Haverney


Keep up with the latest from Hanae on her website and  instagram 


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