Maki Tamura Interview

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Books: Artist finds her style with cartoon cat

Margaret Bikman

Q: When did you first realized you enjoyed art so much that you 
wanted to make it your profession? 

A: There is a Japanese saying: "What you like is what you are best 
at," and my parents believed in this. 

So they encouraged me to pursue my interest in painting since I was 
very young. In high school, I met my art teacher who became my 
mentor. He helped me shape my own sensibility and perspective on art 
and life. 

Q: You were born the year before Hello Kitty first was available on 
products in Japan. Did you have Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse 
merchandise as a child? 

A: My two sisters and I had lots of Hello Kitty hair ornaments and 
stationary. Three of us were very possessive of our own "character" 
goods and sometimes fought over them. I always loved painting and 
drawing, and the subject matter ranged from princesses to 
battleships. It wasn't until 1995 when I figured out the techniques 
to introduce this subject matter in my artwork. 

Q: How did living in Indonesia influence your artistic expression? 

Artist Maki Tamura speaks on her installation, "Vignette," featuring 
Hello Kitty, in a talk entitled "Almost Classic: Meow Meow Meow" at 
7 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, 1400 E. Prospect St, 
in Seattle's Volunteer Park.


A: My love of ornaments and decorative patterns in general must have 
come from seeing lots of beautiful fabric and intricate woodcarvings 
from Java and Bali. The city of Jakarta, where I grew up, was a 
chaotic mix of the old and the new, the indigenous and foreign, the 
rich and the poor. 

There was a very drastic contrast between the interior and exterior 
world, the privileged and comforting environment of my home and the 
tumultuous, dangerous world outside of the house gate. 

My installation at the SAAM is addressing this kind of drastic 
contrast between the interior and exterior worlds. 

Q: Do you enjoy reading fairy tales and fables, Western and 

A: Yes, I still read fairy tales, but not as often as I used to. I 
am interested in the concept of "the childhood," and how various 
fairy tales and fables shape our minds through our childhood 
memories. Power, beauty and morality - these values are taught 
through stories on a subconscious level at an early age. 

Q: Tell me about the symbolism in your installations and videos. 

A: I would like to visualize and question this process of 
indoctrination in my art. 

My past installations and videos have focused on the issues of 
"time," specifically, the time between childhood and adulthood. The 
scrolls signify never-ending stories with layers of images built 
over time. 

Q: What is the appeal of Kitty to girls and young women and film and 
music celebrities? 

A: Hello Kitty is the icon of cuteness. It is not much of a surprise 
that people are drawn to it. Sanrio, the company that markets Hello 
Kitty, envisions "the social communication business," and it wants 
people to use Hello Kitty goods to express their friendship and love 
toward each other. 

On the other hand, during the 1990s, when dressing up like baby 
dolls was in fashion, a lot of women all over the world associated 
Hello Kitty as another symbol of "girl-power." 

Q: What do you like to do for fun? 

A: I like to travel a lot, especially in Europe and Southeast Asia. 
I regard Seattle as my home base, where I can sip the best cups of 
coffee and unwind. 

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