Born in Tokyo in 1969, Akira the Hustler currently lives and works in the same city. In 2004, he launched the "Living Together Project" to bring awareness to the HIV affected community and other minority groups. In Ota Fine Arts Shanghai's exhibition "When many pass one way…", Akira the Hustler presents a large-scale painting and a clay sculpture. Through the exhibition, we join Akira in a conversation about his creative process and experience.
To find out more about the exhibition ‘When many pass one way…’, click here.
Akira the Hustler: Artist InterviewO：OTA FINE ARTS | A：AKIRA THE HUSTLER
O：When did you start creating artworks? Is there a background story you would like to share?
A：I was already producing artworks while I was a student. However, I encountered a senior artist who was a drag queen and whom I became close to, at a club party that I frequented. He vigorously worked on the themes concerning life and death, sexual orientations and society in his creations while publicly announcing that he was HIV positive. HIV was known as a ‘life threatening disease’ at that time. I was extremely shocked from his activities and distanced myself from art-making to focus on social activities. I felt lost while thinking if art could be the way to make this world better.
A: I think it was in the last year of the 20th century that I thought about facing art again. There was an exhibition at Ota Fine Arts, when the gallery was still in an old and quaint building in Ebisu. The exhibition was by three artists, who were also sex workers, writing a diary about their lives, sex and human relations. It was a simple installation work where they pinned those diaries on a white wall. It is not like someone will talk about my stories on behalf of me while I was being silent, I could not accept the fact that my stories were being neglected. To that extent, I thought I was somehow attached to the world.
O：Would you like to share your creative process from getting inspired to completing a work?
A： When I get the inspiration for an artwork, I do not want to re-experience the same disappointment that I felt when I had forgot about it because I had left it until the next moment. Hence, even if I am sleeping, I jump up and take a note or make a sketch.
In many cases, it takes a while for these sketches to become a complete artwork — normally a month to a maximum of a few years. There is a moment when I am able to suddenly believe in the necessity that it should form a shape and appear in reality.
O：Many of your artworks are in part a response to specific social phenomena. To what extent do you think art can influence society, and how? What motivated you to create artworks which reflect these social issues?
A：I think that Art in a narrow sense are the‘slowest tools’ that have an impact on society and can contribute to solving social problems, but this slowness is interesting. I think music and movies have the effect of inspiring people much faster. Sometimes I envy that, but I think art can play its role in a broad sense in the form of collaboration with other fields. To be honest, I feel that it is just a matter of form, whether it takes the form of music, the form of light projected on the screen, or paint scattered on the canvas. I want to believe that art has the unique magical power with its slow-acting art form.
I am not so conscious about making works that reflect social issues, but if I were to imagine myself living a fulfilling life with no problems, I may not be able to make an artwork. In that sense, anger and sadness may be the source of the work.
Akira the Hustler, Cloud Man (each/together), 2017-2019, FRP, acrylic, wood, steel, 240 x 239 x 71 cm
© Akira the Hustler, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts
O：In your artwork, there are some human figures with heads replaced by clouds or animal heads. Is there any symbolic meaning?
A：I really like watching small clouds break apart, overlap and stick together to change shape and size. Sometimes, it seems like a crowd too.
I have once shared that I saw large crowds of people and parades going through the city and they looked like clouds. Even if there was a well-known person marching, it did not matter so much and only the intention exists. The crowd dismissed and went back to their homes when they have reached the goal, I found that scene beautiful.
Installation view: "Ordinary Life", 2012, Ota Fine Arts Tokyo, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts
O：As an artist, do you have any thoughts you would like to share under COVID-19?
A：I remember the time when people were thinking about HIV prevention, I was very impressed by the concept of ‘safer’, for example the use of protection. Intercourse is impossible if you want to be perfectly ‘safe’. I felt a great humanity in the creativity demonstrated then.
When I think about COVID-19 and should I try to seek perfect safety, I imagine myself trapped in a dark room and this makes me feel gloomy. I think the invention of a ‘safer’ way of living can be considered under today’s pandemic. And if there is something that we want to fulfill, even if one was to break the rules and arrangements, what would it be? I have spent the last few months exploring these two themes.
About the Artist
Akira the Hustler (b. 1969, Tokyo, Japan) is a visual artist whose work ranges from performance art to sculptures. While he is trained in painting, his works also take on a myriad of forms that often attempt to depict the alternative or the extraordinary as norm and ordinary. His recent exhibitions include “Welcome to the parade”, Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo (2019), “STREET JUSTICE: Art, Sound and Power”, Galaxy - Gingakei, Tokyo (2018), “Reborn Art Festival 2017”, Ishinomaki (2017) and "Love’s Body-art in the age of AIDS", Tokyo metropolitan museum of Photography, Tokyo (2010). His works are in public collections including Collection Lambert, France and The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan.
Interview: Akira the Hustler