Washi, or handmade Japanese paper, has long held a central role in the domestic, spiritual and cultural life of Japan. Its aesthetic of simplicity, purity and tranquillity mirrors a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture itself. At the same time, the striking diversity of washi-ranging from a white sheet of kozo so thin that you can read through it, to a three-layer confection including gold powder, mica and rayon fibres-highlights the creativity, skill and rigour that underpins this 1500-year-old Japanese craft.
This exhibition celebrates both the rich history of washi and the stunning variety that exists within the washi universe. Examples from two collections are featured here: the portion of the nineteenth century Parkes Collection held in the Economic Botany Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the twenty-first century Washi: The Soul of Japan collection.
On Saturday 16th March, Norwich University of the Arts
will be hosting Washi: The Art of Japanese Paper, a one-day conference bringing together expert speakers from all over the world.
This is a unique opportunity to hear experts from all over the world speak about all aspects of washi. Speakers include Dr Mark Nesbitt from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Sakata Yoshie, of Washi: The Soul of Japan.
During the intermission there will be the opportunity to purchase the book Washi: The Art of Japanese Paper, written by curator Nancy Broadbent Casserley, and published to mark the occasion of this fabulous exhibition.
The exhibition and conference mark a series of firsts for the Gallery at Norwich University of the Arts, the first formal collaboration with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, and the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of East Anglia, and also with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, from whom we have loaned the historic Parkes Collection, assembled by Sir Harry Parkes, the first British Envoy to Japan in the 1860s, at the behest of then British Prime Minister, William Gladstone.
The Washi: The Soul of Japan collection grew out of 10-year project that began in Japan in the 1990s with the goal of documenting the state of washi production at the turn of the second millennium. This project culminated in our Japanese partners, the Washi: The Soul of Japan Committee, compiling an astonishing compendium of contemporary Japanese paper. Over 1000 contributors from the length and breadth of Japan provided paper samples for the 12 volume publication, parts of which are on display here. Like Norwich, the city of Kyoto, Japan, has a long and proud history, both are esteemed members of the League of Historic Cities. Kyoto continues to be the centre of traditional Japanese arts and crafts, including paper making. The importance of the invention of paper cannot be underestimated, especially in relation to artistic practice, making this exhibition and conference particularly pertinent in the context of it being held within Norwich University of the Arts.