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Utamaro print showing


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ODA Mayumi (小田檀)


Oda Mayumi (小田檀) — printmaker, painter, calligrapher, teacher — was born into a Buddhist family in Kyôdô, Tokyo in June 1941. Her given name is Buddhist, meaning "sandalwood" (檀), a fragrant wood used to make Buddhist prayer beads and incense. She learned to draw from an early age and belonged to an art club in high school. She passed the competitive examination for entrance into the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, but she wrote that she was unhappy there, "not knowing what to express." Instead, she spent much of her time studying traditional Japanese fabric dyeing and designing. Her unique apprenticeship in dyeing fabric for kimono influenced the color and composition of virtually all her future work. In 1966 she graduated from the University.

While growing up in Japan, Oda found herself at odds with the traditional view of Japanese womanhood, finding it repellant whenever she was made to feel ashamed or inferior to anyone. She married an American who was in studying in Japan and they had two children. She once wrote that "the experience of giving birth and raising children and being an artist at the same time made me realize my own strength and the potential power of all women." As she read novels and essays by women she admired, such as Hiratsuka Raichô (平塚らいてう 1886-1971) and Okamoto Kanoko (岡本 かの子, 1889-1939), goddesses became a theme in her silscreen prints, which, she said, "seemed to create themselves." Through her goddesses she "became stronger" and through her creative processes, Oda believed she was "creating herself."

Oda Mayumi: "Manjusri," 1980, edition no. 21/48
Silkscreen; (tusche & glue method); image: 970 x 700; paper: 1,080 x 735 mm

When Oda was eleven, her mother, who had wanted to be an artist, took her to an exhibition of Munakata Shikô's woodcuts, where they saw his Nibosatsu shaka jûdai deshi (Two bodhisattvas and ten great disciples of Sakya: 二菩薩釈迦十大弟子). As Oda once wrote, "My mother transmitted her love of art to me by holding my hand and going over each print. She was still young and beautiful, and her full white face seemed to resemble Munakata's Kannon Bodhisattva.... I dreamed about my adult life as an artist and made a vow that I would make my mother happy."

Oda's silkscreen image of Manjusri, the traditionally male Buddhist bodhisattva who exemplifies wisdom, transforms the deity into a female nude riding a unicycle. Oda was inspired by late nineteenth-century Art Nouveau posters of women in bloomers on bicycles, which back then granted women new-found mobility and freedom. Mayumi adapted this idea, changing Manjusri's gender and his usual mode of transportation (a lion, seen here running beside the bicycle), disrobing the bodhisattva, and replacing the typical raised sword with a gently flowing sutra scroll (a symbol of clarity). No wonder Mayumi's courageous conceptions of women and goddesses have charmed and inspired generations of modern women who see in them symbols of their own liberation.

From 1969 to the present Mayumi has exhibited in more than 50 solo shows worldwide. Her artwork is also part of the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Cincinnati Art Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawai'i; Library of Congress, Washington DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Osaka Modern Art Center, Japan; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Tochigi Prefecural Museum of Art, Japan; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven. © 2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Oda, Mayumi: Goddesses. Berkeley: Lancaster-Miller Publishers, 1981.
  • Oda, Mayumi: Merciful Sea: 45 Years of Serigraphs. Honolulu: Robyn Buntin, 2012.
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