Just as history and the past are ‘left behind’ by people, we can pretend that inconvenient facts or unacknowledged love never happened if we bury them in the ground. Besides, even though there are things we really want to remember, forgetting is a means for human beings to continue living. That is probably why we entrust our memories to records, histories and works of art.

I just wanted to look back on the last four years. It was like being in a cavern, or like a treasure chest, filled only with important things. At times it was refreshing to be a completely different person, with new people and a new body. At other times it was nostalgic, like Hansel and Gretel returning home by collecting the white pebbles they had left behind in the past, so as not to get lost. Those white stones shone in the light of the full moon. 

The time Calypso spent with Odysseus must have been bright, even in the cavern.

- Mari Katayama

GALLERY ETHER is pleased to announce “CAVERN”, a solo exhibition by Mari Katayama, to be held from Tuesday, June 6th through Saturday, June 24th, 2023. This exhibition features works from “possession”, “just one of those things” and “leave-taking” alongside new drawings and two new photo series “Calypso” and “study for caryatid”.

Katayama creates self-portraits incorporating hand-sewn objects and her prosthetics, as well as various installations featuring these objects. Since establishing her studio in Gunma, Japan in 2019, she has concentrated on the relationship between the human body and artwork in relation to the society in which they exist. She describes these past four years spent in her studio as being “like a cave”, a mysterious space that is cut off from contact with the outside world and brings to mind the story of Calypso and Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”.

Katayama has been groping in the darkness of this cave, creating secret relationships with the objects within. “just one of those things” (2021), created in conjunction with the resumption of the High Heel Project she began in 2011, offers more choices as a response to social norms and the “correct body”. It is an appeal to us to realize that there is no personal freedom that should be willingly forfeited. Then, in “leave-taking” (2021) and “possession” (2022), the question of “letting go of/owning” the labels attached to others and to ourselves. Katayama, by questioning the relationship between her own body, which she has used to create her own ideal, and the objects she creates, she is able to engage in a dialogue with her inner self.

In her new work, “study for caryatid” (2023), Katayama attempts to situate the object/self relationship that was established in “leave taking” and “possession” into a more social context. The “caryatid” of this work's title refers to the standing female figures sometimes found in place of columns to support beams in ancient Greek temple architecture. The “caryatid” can appear to stand firm between heaven and earth, or to be chained to both. We must live in harmony with these chains, whether we give them away or possess them ourselves. In "Study for Caryatid", there may be invisible chains tying down Katayama's body, yet it evokes not the heaviness of these chains, but the lightness of being free while bound by them. 

Against the backdrop of the tale of Calypso and Odysseus, Katayama looks back on the secret relationships she herself created in the four years of her cave-like period of creation.

*Usually, prosthetic feet are not made with the proper foot shape for wearing high heels, and the heels themselves are not durable enough to withstand use with prosthetics. In order to wear high heels, Katayama ordered special prosthetic foot parts, fabricated high heels, that she wears when walking around town and performing on stage.


Mari Katayama

Born 1987 in Saitama and raised in Gunma, Japan. 

Graduated with a Master’s degree from the Department of Intermedia Art at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2012. Suffering from congenital tibial hemimelia, Katayama had both her legs amputated at the age of nine. Since then, she has created numerous self-portraits, alongside embroidered objects and decorated prostheses, using her own body as a living sculpture. Her belief is that tracing her own self connects her with other people, and that just like a patchwork is made by stitching together edges with needle and thread, her everyday life can also be connected with wider society and the world.

In addition to her creative art, she has also worked as fashion model, singer and keynote speaker at international events. She also leads the “High Heels Project”, which has recently entered its second phase. The motto of the project is to use the body and art in any way possible to achieve “freedom of choice.”

Her major exhibitions include, “home again” (Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France, 2021), “58th Venice Biennale 2019” (Giardini and Arsenale, Venice, Italy), “broken heart” (White Rainbow, London, 2019), “Photographs of Innocence and of Experience – Contemporary Japanese Photography Vol.14” (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo, 2017), “on the way home” (The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, 2017), “Roppongi Crossing – My Body, Your Voice” (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2016), “Aichi Triennale 2013” (Nayabashi, Aichi), etc. Public collections include La Maison Rouge (Paris, France), Collection Antoine de Galbert (Paris, France), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan), Arts Maebashi (Gunma, Japan) and Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan). She received the Encouraging Prize of Gunma Biennale for Young Artists in 2005, Grand Prix of Art Award Tokyo Marunouchi in 2012, Higashikawa Award for The New Photographer category in 2019 and Kimura Ihei Award in 2020. Her major publications include “GIFT” (United Vagabonds, 2019).

  • 1987 Born in Saitama, raised in Gunma, Japan
  • 2010 B.A., Gunma Prefectural Women's University, Gunma
  • 2012 M.F.A., Tokyo University of the Arts, Tokyo