Melissa Ichiuji

I make figurative sculptures and performative “skins” that are reminiscent of dolls.  They are personifications of internal struggles that define the human condition.  I gravitate toward themes relating to feminine erotic power, repressed sexuality and violence, and the fragile nature of existence.  I use materials that contain remnants of previous life such as antique textiles, hair, leather, dried fruit, bones, fur, teeth and clothing.  I believe that these objects carry the “soul” of the previous owner, and by incorporating them into my art I am blurring the line between dead and alive, real and unreal.  Stylistically, my work aims to balance the empathetic quality of a handmade artifact with the surreal aesthetic of animation.

The following quote resonates with me:

“Art helps us accomplish a task of central importance in our lives: to hold on to things we love when they are gone.”
– Alain de Botton

One of the cornerstones of my work is the inclusion of historical artifacts from my life and my immediate family.  Many pieces express a wistfulness that acknowledges the heartbreaking impermanence of all things.  In a way my practice is meditation on the transitory nature of life and an exercise in non-attachment.  Recently, I had an epiphany, and realized the parallels between the melancholy tendency in my work and my ancestral connection to the rural south, a region of the U.S. uniquely fixated on loss and remembrance.Melissa Ichiuji 1 7x9 72 dpi

My cultural heritage is rooted in the southern traditions of the American Appalachian Mountains.  My sixth great grandfather was Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman and one of the first folk heroes of the United States.  Appalachian culture is steeped in supernatural folklore, and its people have a special fondness for things eccentric and bizarre.

My relatives were artisans who worked in traditional techniques, like blacksmithing, basket weaving and quilting.  I am inspired by the resourcefulness and the fortitude of the pioneering American spirit and, as a result, often employ low-tech assemblage processes that utilize natural materials and found objects.

I started making small figures when I was six years old.  I used whatever I had, mostly pieces of clothing or scraps from my grandmother’s quilts.  When I was five, a house fire left my family homeless and my mother severely depressed.  I refused to go to school, not wanting to leave my mother alone.  When she began working full time, I missed her and started taking her stockings and other family members’ personal items to incorporate into my dolls. These bits of clothing that belonged to my loved ones were infused with familiar scents and provided comfort.

As a teenager I attended the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington DC, became a dancer, and moved to New York City to work with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.  I spent the next 10 years working as a professional actor and dancer in NY and Europe.  While touring in the international production of West Side Story, I broke my ankle and, while recuperating, started making dolls again.  A few years later, after seeking a new mode of creative expression, I decided to redirect my focus and earned a degree in Fine Arts from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC.

These events led to my current practice as a sculptor and performance artist.  My work continues to combine the physicality of dance, the craftsmanship of folk art and the conceptual rigor of contemporary fine art.

Melissa IchiujiI have exhibited in Virginia, DC, NY, Miami, Brussels, Berlin, Munich and Paris.

My work is currently on view in Munich in the solo exhibition “ Venus Envy” at Irmingard Beck and also as part of the Group exhibition “Engagements” at The Musee de Poitiers in Poitiers France.

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