• Language

Mayunkiki: Siknure – Let me live

Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS

Tel: 01212480708



Ikon presents Siknure - Let me live by Ainu artist and musician Mayunkiki. It is the first solo exhibition by an Ainu artist in the UK.

Born in 1980 in Asahikawa, on the island of Hokkaidō in Japan, Mayunkiki's artistic practice arises from her Indigenous identity. Through a variety of works, this exhibition conveys the predicament of her community in recent times. Like many 'First Nation' populations, the Ainu have suffered systematic marginalisation by a central government and Mayunkiki is especially concerned to raise the profile of their traditional culture, including Sinuye (traditional tattooing practice for Ainu women, banned by Japanese law) and Upopo (traditional Ainu music rooted in rhythmic patterns and singing in a trance-like chorus). On the walls throughout the exhibition are a number of historical family photographs - to illustrate literally where Mayunkiki is coming from - and also handwritten observations, in English, made by her. One is an overview:

I knew that I was Ainu, but I had no idea what that meant or how it affected me until I was about 23 years old, when I began to consciously study Ainu culture. However, I always had the impression that the word "Ainu" was associated with more negative than positive images, and I always felt this a little from the air that flowed whenever someone used the word "Ainu", and from the expressions on their faces.

A new video work, commissioned by Ikon, is concerned with the relationship between the artist and her father. It was he, above all others, who insisted on her Indigenous identity: "You are Ainu". To date, for him, actual Ainu experience has been vicarious and now with more time in his retirement Mayunkiki proposes an Ainu "to do" list, with an idea that he will cross out all items, and therefore die "as an Ainu".

Another body of work, exhibited here, is based on a small selection of Ainu artefacts, on loan from the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. These include a necklace of globular trade beads, a wooden soup-ladle, a coat made of Attush (fibre from the inner bark of the elm tree) and a mukkuri (mouth harp). For Ikon, the existing (original) labels are replaced by extended captions written by Mayunkiki, to reflect her own experience and understandings, stopping them from becoming "relics from the past".

The museum objects, placed in vitrines, are seen alongside personal objects that Mayunkiki has chosen to reflect the nature of her everyday life - now as a resident of Sapporo, Hokkaidō's bustling capital city. She is concerned to assert her cultural heritage whilst acknowledging the pervasive influence of contemporary popular culture. In a recent interview she explains: "… identity should be more flexible. As we live in Japan, I don't know why we have to struggle with our identity as Ainu, and why we even have to think about our identity - of course history is a different story. It would be much better if we could talk about Ainu more comfortably without worrying about identity issues. We are seen as special just because we're Ainu, but if we can go beyond that and just normalise Ainu, it will become easier for everyone to learn about our history and rights."

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, with installation photographs of Ikon's exhibition, an interview with Mayunkiki and introduction by Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director. A public programme includes a performance by Mayunkiki and Surge Orchestra (Friday 9 September) and a panel discussion on Ainu culture (October) with anthropologist Marenka Thompson-Odlum and artist and researcher Eiko Soga. For more information, please visit ikon-gallery.org

The exhibition is generously supported by The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and The Japan Foundation.

This exhibition follows a number by Ikon featuring Indigenous women artists, including Meryl McMaster (Canada), Judy Watson and Yhonnie Scarce (Australia) and Britta Marakatt-Labba (Sweden).

Guide Prices

Free entry


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  • Accessible toilets
  • Baby changing facilities
  • Facilities for Hearing Impaired Visitors
  • Guide Dogs Permitted

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IKON Gallery exteriorIkon Gallery, West MidlandsIkon is an internationally acclaimed art gallery situated in central Birmingham. Housed in a magnificent Victorian school building, the gallery is one of the most impressive buildings in the city and a unique venue for events.


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