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Jan Patience: Rare Miyako collection is a sensation at Stills

© SYSTEMIshiuchi Miyako, artist.
Ishiuchi Miyako, artist.

Ishiuchi Miyako is one of the most influential post-war photographers to emerge from Japan in the last 50 years.

Her work is rarely seen in the UK but now, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, a small but powerful display is on show at Stills Gallery in the capital.

The photographs are from three different, yet interconnected, bodies of work by Miyako, now 76.

The artist’s first colour photographs were made for her Mother’s series, created as a response to the death of her mother, aged 84, in 2000.

For this series, Miyako photographed her mother’s burn-marked skin up close before she died. She also documented her mother’s possessions; livid red lipsticks, shoes and wigs. Miyako was then commissioned by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to photograph items of personal effects belonging to victims of the atomic bomb, which wreaked death and destruction on the city in August 1945.

Begun in 2007, it features images of items such as jackets, socks, a watch and dresses – some photographed on a lightbox – which had been in direct contact with blast victim’s bodies.

Miyako continued to record bodily traces of the passage of time with her Frida, 2013 series, for which she photographed a selection of artist Frida Kahlo’s possessions at the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City. These included the revered Mexican artist’s Oaxaca dresses, shoes, sunglasses, make-up and a decorated corset.

This exhibition was hung by Miyako, who spent 10 days in Edinburgh, working with staff at Stills.

The colour of the walls – dark navy blue and silver grey – was specified by Miyako. Some photos are at eye-level, some are at knee-height. Initially, I found this confusing, but the end result was that you looked more closely. No bad thing.

I urge you to see this unmissable jewel of an exhibition.

Another Edinburgh Art Festival highlight is Montreal-based Nadia Myre’s Tell Me Of Your Boats And Your Waters – Where Do They Come From, Where Do They Go?  at Edinburgh Printmakers, Fountainbridge.

In this new work, which can be seen inside the visual arts hub and alongside the nearby Union Canal, she explores the ties that bind Scotland and Canada through migratory routes, which started on the canal, indigenous storytelling, archival research methods, pattern, prose and song lyrics.