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"Three wise monkeys" 2016

Sumi ink, gold leaf, Pigment paint on wood panel  /  910×727mm  x3

In creating this piece, I visited Nikko Tosho-gu to document the Three Wise Monkeys famous for portraying the proverb “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.” I had visited Nikko 25 years ago when I was a student, but this was the first time I went there since becoming an artist. Though I remembered previously seeing the Three Wise Monkeys, I could not recall what was around it. As it turns out, there are a total of sixteen monkeys, including the famous three, depicted in eight carvings: five on the northern exterior wall of the stable for the sacred horse and three on the western exterior wall. The eight carvings represent stages in life from child-rearing to falling in love, marriage, and pregnancy. The three monkeys in the second carving depict the teaching not to let children see, speak, or hear evil in order for them to grow up with honest hearts. The eight carvings can be viewed in a sequential loop, with the final carving depicting a pregnant monkey leading back to the first carving depicting a baby monkey.

From its wordplay in Japanese, I had assumed that the three wise monkeys originated in Japan, but after having done some research, I discovered that similar visual representations and proverbs were also found in ancient Egypt and at Angkor Wat. Today the three wise monkeys are used in many contexts across the world from Sunday school lessons to textbooks to Hollywood films. I believe this widespread use is due to the universal message pertinent to our lives contained in the image.

People develop their personalities through their experiences. In childhood we are influenced by what we see and hear, and in turn as adults, we influence children through how we act and talk. As the monkey in the eighth carving leads back to the one in the first, so too does the world move in cycles.

In recent years, the proliferation of the Internet has resulted in more opportunities for children and us to see and hear many things. Having seen the Three Wise Monkeys at Nikko, I felt that we needed the monkeys now more than ever.



《三猿》 2016

墨、金箔、顔料、木製パネル  /  910×727mm  x3












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