Polarity One, 2014. Ogarami choshi, dye, and French embroidery knots, 7.5 x 7.5 x 7.5 in. Photo: Taylor Dabney

Qualities of the Unsaid: A Conversation with Kiyomi Iwata

Kiyomi Iwata, who was born in Kobe, Japan, is a textile artist whose work explores the relationship between geographies—East and West, North and South— through cultural signifiers, text, and materiality. After immigrating to the United States in 1961 and marrying, Iwata studied at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where she was introduced to batik dyeing, and the Penland School of Craft. In the 1970s, she and her family relocated to New York City, where she studied at the New School for Social Research and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. During those years, she began fashioning silk organza into serial boxes, which she describes as “container[s] of mystery.” Iwata’s career blossomed in the 1980s, but after 9/11, her work changed from subtle concepts to direct communication, taking the form of fabric scrolls with handwritten haiku and waka poems. After returning to Richmond in 2010, she began another body of work made from kibiso, a trademarked thread provided by Tsuruoka Fabric Industry Cooperative in Tsuruoka, Japan. In these wall hangings, which consist of linear elements made from woven kibiso covered in gold leaf, Iwata exchanges forms for their absence.

Amanda Dalla Villa Adams: You were born during World War II and grew up during the American occupation and rebuilding of Japan. How, if at all, do you see those early experiences in your work?
Kiyomi Iwata:
After the war, the whole nation was working hard to recover and rebuild. If I could identify this time by a color, it would be gray—not warm gray, but dirty gray. However, there was one bright spot during this period for a restless young woman, and it was Hollywood movies . . .

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