Maternal Deities: Yasuo Higa Exhibition
January 23, 2011 — May 31, 2011
Kudaka Island, Fubo Utaki, Fubawaku, 1975
Yasuo Higa is not only one of the most renowned photographers in Okinawa, but he is also famous for his significant contribution to the field of ethnography. After the B-52 crush at the Kadena Air Base in 1968, Higa resigned from his job as policeman and decided to become a photographer. He is a photographer who symbolizes Okinawa in a turbulent era when events such as the Vietnam War and the “Restoration” to Japan stirred the region.

Iriomote Island, Sonai, Shitsu, 1974
Irabu Island, Imonigai, 1995
Miyako Island, Karimata, Uyan, 1989
Shocked by a religious ritual in Miyakojima Island which he encountered during his assignment work, Higa began to be intrigued by the old strata of Okinawan culture. He eventually produced an enormous amount of documents about the Ryukyu Islands, including Kudakajima Island, which has been called the “Island of Deities,” and other islands such as the Yaeyama Islands in the south and the Amami Islands in the north. Until his death in 2000, Higa continued to search for the essence of spiritual culture in the Ryukyu Islands, by photographing rituals which were then becoming obsolete and the dignified women (the mothers) who conducted them. Captured in his photographs is a kind of rituals of the goddess worship and the maternal principle, which is unusual even from a global perspective, and some of the rituals are forbidden to men. This exhibition presents 162 photographs from his photography book Haha tachi no kami (Maternal Deities) which Higa edited by himself but never published. Many of the rituals, which were founded on nature and ancestor worship and conducted by each village, have already been transformed and some of them are now discontinued. However, his photographs help to capture and preserve the fertile world of the deities of the Ryukyu Islands.

This exhibition is a touring version of Maternal Deities organized by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, held from November 2, 2010 through January 10, 2011.

* * * * *

“People believe in the immortality of the souls, believing that the place where the souls come back, a place of rebirth, exists in nirâ harâ * far out at sea, and they ask the maternal deities to return to the sanctuary of the island so they can receive their protective powers. These ‘maternal deities’ are associated with the attributes of motherhood, such as giving birth, raising, and protecting.’ That is, they are ‘tender deities’ who are spontaneous, natural, and characterized by an affection for life. . . This culture of maternal principle will be an important clue to reflect on the contemporary society in which the paternal principle continues to advance, exposing a danger of catastrophe.”
 * A synonym for nirai kanai. Another world which is believed to exist far out at sea and where deities live.
----Yasuo Higa, Nipponjin no tamashii no genkyô: okinawa kudakajima (The Birthplace of the Japanese Soul: Kudaka Island, Okinawa).


[Special Events]

1) January 23, 2011 (Sunday)
Panel Discussion: Toyomitsu Higa, photographer, Ben Takara, poet, Naoki Onaga, Deputy Director of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, and Masashi Kohara, Researcher at IZU PHOTO MUSEUM

2) March 27, 2011 (Sunday)
Conversation: Isao Nakazato, critic, and Masashi Kohara

3) April 10, 2011 (Sunday)
Talk: Toshimaro Ama, historian of religion, Professor Emeritus at Meiji Gakuin University

*Gallery talks by the curator are scheduled on weekends.

Kudaka Island, Fubawaku, 1975
Kudaka Island, Kuba tree, Jan. 1978
[Profile]
Yasuo Higa. Born in the Philippines in 1938. After WWII ended, moved to Okinawa. After graduating from Koza High School in 1958, assigned to the Kadena Police Department. First began to use a camera as a photographer for the crime laboratory investigation section. Retired from the job after the B-52 crush incident in 1968. Studied at Tokyo Sôgô Shashin Senmon Gakkô and held a photography exhibition Umarejima Okinawa (My Native Island Okinawa) on his graduation in 1971. In 1974, joined the ethnographer Ken’ichi Tanigawa’s research expedition as a field photographer and was shocked by a ritual called uyagan in Miyakojima Island. In 1975, After meeting a shaman named Shizu Nishime, visited Kudakajima Island more than one hundred times, documenting rituals throughout the year. In 1976, awarded the Taiyo Award for Onna kami matsuri (Women, Deities, Rituals). In 1993, awarded the Annual Award of the Photographic Society of Japan, the Publishing Culture Award of the Okinawa Times, and other prizes for the series Kamigami no kosô (Old Strata of Deities). Died in 2000. In 2001, a retrospective exhibition on Higa entitled Hikari to kaze to kamigami no sekai (A World of Light, Wind and Deities) was held at the Naha Civic Gallery. His books include Kamigami no shima: Okinawa kudakajima no matsuri (Island of Deities: Festivals in Kudakajima Island) (co-written by Ken’ichi Tanigawa, Heibonsha, 1979), Ryukyuko: on’na tachi no matsuri (Ryukyu Islands: Festivals of Women) (co-written by Ken’ichi Tanigawa, Asahi Shimbunsha, 1980), Nippon no seiiki (7) okinawa no seinaru shimajima (Sanctuaries in Japan 7: Sacred Islands of Okinawa) (co-written by Motoo Wakugami, Kôsei Shuppansha, 1982), Umarejima okinawa: amerikayû kara yamatoyû (My Native Island Okinawa: From American Administration to Japanese Administration) (Niraisha, 1992), Kamigami no Kosô (Old Strata of Deities) (12 volumes, Niraisha, 1989-1993), and Nipponjin no tamashii no genkyô: okinawa kudakajima (The Birthplace of the Japanese Soul: Kudakajima Island, Okinawa) (Shueisha, 2000).

Maternal Dieteis: Yasuo Higa
2010, Shuppansha Mugen
¥3,680 (Tax incl.)
290 pages, Hardcover, 26.2 x 21.4 x 3.8 cm
Edited by Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum
Text: Isao Nakazato, Eiko Asato, Atsushi Shitada, Naoki Onaga, Takara Ben