France and Japan — A mutual understanding and respect through art

Bridges spoke with Naoko Ohta of Klee Inc Paris Tokyo (KLEE) about her company’s activities and the importance of France and Japan’s shared love of the Arts.

How important is the appreciation of art and culture as the world emerges from the pandemic?

Naoko Ohta of Klee Inc Paris Tokyo | © Klee

The last 75 years since the end of World War II has been a relatively peaceful period in the sense that there were no major conflicts between the great powers. Economic interdependence has played a role in this in addition to the expansion and deepening of our mutual understanding of one another through multi-dimensional cultural exchanges fostered by the rapid development of global communication.

Culture permeates religious and political doctrines and concepts. Formed by history, people’s behavioral patterns and linguistic systems, culture can be broadly defined as an aesthetic sense that contributes to stabilizing our societies. A vital aspect of culture are dedicated artists who spend their energies and skills to create contemporary works of art, meant to serve as messages to society; not only now but to make an impact on the future.

Artworks provide an opportunity to think about and re-examine reality and the culture and nature behind society. Photography especially has the potential to have a direct impact on society because it is characterized by its unique ability to depict ‘reality’ at a certain time, captured by the artist.

Emotion – The ability to elicit sympathy for the ‘source’ and the ability to present reality, may impress, move and inspire the viewer. Archiving – Photography functions as a lasting archive, recording an era for future people to see, through the eyes of the artist.

The pandemic is causing various changes in our society, including restrictions on movement and a shift from face-to-face to remote communication. This may bring about a transformation in people’s way of thinking and behaviour, depending on the technologies and services that support them. Under these circumstances, representing, archiving and sharing values ​​that have been accumulated and validated through artistic works will not only serve as a source of mere information, but help to keep the world a little saner.

France and Japan both take a great deal of pride in beauty, language and culture. At the same time, due to the differences in their historical backgrounds, the style of expression of human relationships and culture is rather opposite.

Naoko Ohta, Klee Inc Paris Tokyo

How closely linked are France and Japan in terms of history, art, and culture?

France and Japan both take a great deal of pride in beauty, language and culture. At the same time, due to the differences in their historical backgrounds, the style of expression of human relationships and culture is rather opposite. I think this is the reason why they have been attracted to one another from the early days. France and Japan are both blessed with fertile soil, and because agriculture and fisheries are thriving industries, eating is more than a necessity. This has led to a ‘social surplus’ which has accumulated and led to continuous investments in art and culture – a source of pride in both our languages and cultures.

On the other hand, the style of expression, especially expression of art and culture is quite different. France won freedom, equality and fraternity through battle, while Japan maintained unparalleled stability through the continuation of social harmony. France and Japan are extremely rare cultural fraternal twins. By valuing their identities, each can recognize their similarities and differences on an equal footing and pursue their identities. This is a thought-provoking example of the recognition of diversity.

What message would you like to share with our readers regarding the achievements of KLEE and your plans for the future?

Since its establishment in 1987, KLEE has been engaged in numerous art projects aimed at sharing values ​ between Japan and overseas. Focusing on photography and exhibiting Japanese artists or foreigners working on the theme of Japan, helps to promote a deeper understanding of the essence of the Japanese country, its people and culture outside of Japan.

We have realized many such projects. In the USA, we participated in the New York Photo Festival 2012. We co-organized the symposium ‘Japanese Photography Study’ at the New York Public Library in 2014 and the ‘TOKYO-GA’ installation at Miami International Airport in 2016.

In France, I would like to mention exhibitions such as ‘ELOGE DE L’OMBRE – The French-Japanese contemporary photography’ at Les Rencontres de la Photographie a Arles, 1999 and ‘L’art de Rosanjin at Musee Guimet’ in Paris in 2013 and in Japan at the Kawasaki City Museum in 2000, the Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum in 2001, the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto in 2015 and the Adachi Museum and Mitsui Memorial Museum in 2016.

We also organized ‘TOKYO CURIOSITY 2018-2020’ in Paris, Berlin and Tokyo as a 3-years / 3-cities traveling exhibition. Organized by my company and our Malaysian partner KL-GA, the ‘Two Mountains Project’ focused on Mt. Fuji in Japan and Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia and resulted in exhibitions in both countries. Some exhibition projects, including ‘L’art de Rosanijn – The essence of Japanese food culture’ and ‘TOKYO CURIOSITY’ have not ended with overseas exhibitions but continued in Japan with feedback from overseas attendees confirming that the essence of Japanese culture is a global art.

Another key focus of KLEE is ‘ecobeing’, a bilingual web-site magazine established in 1999. ‘ecobeing’ involves various specialists in open discussions about the ‘compass for the future’ as we preserve our beloved Earth. The future work of KLEE will see the second phase of ‘TOKYO-GA’ and ‘ecobeing’ trying to create and stimulate opportunity platforms to think about and confirm our own ‘source’ and deepen our understanding for the diverse identities of foreign countries, thus contributing to mutual understanding and respect through art. Finally, I wish KLEE-based activities will spread around the world little by little just like KL-GA of Malaysia, and become a global cultural wave, with warm support and understanding.

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