The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Artist re-creates Shuri Castle painting
NAHA — A young artist has reproduced a classic Chinese painting lost in the massive re that destroyed Shuri Castle in Naha three years ago.
A work in the traditional bird-andower genre, the original was a treasure of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which existed from the 15th century to the 19th century.
Marina Nizoe, 29, lives in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, and is hoping to help spur a renaissance of Ryukyu painting. She was in the process of reproducing the artwork, one of the foundations of Ryukyu art, when the re occurred.
Nizoe plans to donate the reproduction when the castle’s burned-down main building is rebuilt. e reconstruction work started on Nov. 3.
Titled “Birds and Flowers in Snow,” the original painting was created by Qin-dynasty artist Zhang Sheng and depicts a pair of pheasants sitting near a dead tree covered with snow. Court painters of the Ryukyu Kingdom are believed to have honed their artistic skill by reproducing paintings by Chinese artists, including Zhang.
“is work had a tremendous in uence on Ryukyu art,” Nizoe said.
Court artists of the Ryukyu dynasty were also entrusted with designing lacquerware and kimono.
eir works were distributed to Japan through the country’s Satsuma domain.
e 2019 re destroyed 27 paintings, including reproductions and Chinese paintings, and damaged six works.
Nizoe has loved drawing animals and nature since she was a child, and majored in Japanese-style painting at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts and its graduate school, which are located near the castle.
She has mainly painted works in the traditional bird-and- ower genre, but her use of bright colors and dense compositions with little white space sometimes drew harsh criticisms at exhibitions for not being Japanese-style paintings.
Nizoe felt inadequate and even thought of quitting the university, but then she learned about Ryukyu paintings from her mentor.
In uenced by both Chinese and Japanese paintings, Ryukyu paintings were bold and sophisticated. ey were noted for vivid colors that evoke the nature of Okinawa, and Nizoe was convinced that she found her career in them.
However, the methods by which Ryukyu art was created were unclear, as no one carried on the work of the court painters who lost their jobs when the kingdom was annexed to Japan in 1879. Many works were also lost in the Battle of Okinawa and during the U.S. occupation.
“I’ll gure it out, then,” Nizoe thought. She studied the art in depth, getting involved in the restoration of Ryukyu paintings at a picture frame and scroll shop. She also repeatedly visited the castle, which housed many Ryukyu paintings.
e place of her studies was engulfed in ames in the early hours of Oct. 31, 2019.
Nizoe learned of the disaster at 5:30 a.m. in a text message from a friend and saw on TV that the castle’s main building
was burning ercely. Due to a tra c jam in the area, she found it di cult to get near the castle. When she nally saw it from her university at about 10 a.m., she was faced with the devastating sight of a structure charred black.
“I felt like the career path I’d nally found had been taken away from me,” she said.
At the time, Nizoe was working on reproducing “Birds and Flowers in Snow.” She had tried to trace Ryukyu artists’ footsteps to discover how the painting was created.
Only several days before, she had asked an o cial at the Okinawa Churashima Foundation that managed the castle to take the painting out of reproof storage, and she took pictures of its details with a microscope. Since most of the artwork in the storage was safe, Nizoe became distressed, blaming herself for the loss of the painting.
Whenever she saw the burned site of the castle, she felt gutted. Encouraged by o cials of the foundation and professors at the university, she took paint brushes and completed the reproduction of “Birds and Flowers in Snow” at the end of the year. ere are other reproductions of the work made by court artists in the past, but the foundation has welcomed Nizoe’s donation proposal.
“[Nizoe’s reproduction] captures the
brushwork and the colors of the original and has an intensity that’s close to it.
is is a signi cant work that can never be created now that the original is lost,” a foundation o cial said.
In spring this year, Nizoe nished her degree at the university’s graduate school and took her rst steps as a Ryukyu painting specialist. She has held a joint exhibition with other Okinawan artists who were all born a er the prefecture was returned to Japan in 1972.
Nizoe’s dream is to establish technical methods for creating Ryukyu paintings — like bingata dyeing and Ryukyu lacquerware, traditions that disappeared at one point but were successfully revived. She also hopes to foster successors and see Ryukyu paintings commercially distributed.
“Reproducing old paintings requires patience, and there aren’t many people who continue doing it with enthusiasm. I hope to go on supporting young people with a mission,” said Yasuyuki Uezu, who works in the foundation’s division in charge of the castle.
“e re made me feel yet again the sheer magnitude of Shuri Castle’s presence,” Nizoe said. “I hope that the castle’s restoration will boost momentum to pass down its history and culture to the next generation. I’d also like to overcome this sense of loss and produce Okinawan treasures.” (Nov. 4)