Our world was once “Kamuy Mosir,” or “Land of Gods.” Drawing on the animistic beliefs of the Ainu people —the indigenous ethnic group of Hokkaido and other nearby territories— Ayaka Endo (@e__n__d__) photographs animals and natural environments in search of “kamuy,” the gods that inhabit everything around us.
When we need to feel a connection to what makes us human, we turn to nature. But paradoxically, as humans, we have domesticated and exploited that nature for our own benefit, generating an “unnatural” nature, a fictitious nature stripped of freedom and essence.
Is there still a divine presence in this man-made nature? I posed these questions to find out if Ayaka had found the “kamuy” through her photos.
“Kamuy Mosir” is the first photography series that you have presented as a solo exhibition. I would like to talk about your trajectory before this project.
I graduated from University this spring, majoring in Graphic Design. I have made an art book that summarizes my photography, and I have also exhibited products printed on textiles at the Tokyo ArtBook Fair for about 5 years.
I decided to work as a photographer after announcing my completed production, this current project, “Kamuy Mosir.”
Can you explain what “Kamuy Mosir” is to those who do not know this Japanese belief?
There is only one God in the West, but in Japan, there is a long-standing idea that gods and spirits dwell in everything.
In the traditional belief of the Ainu people, it was thought that “kamuy”, which means both God and soul, dwells in everything.
There are kamuy in things that give humans the blessings of nature, such as plants and animals; in things that are indispensable for humans to live, such as fire, water, and living utensils. Also, in those things that human power does not reach, such as the weather. All of them should be respected as kamuy.
It was thought as well that this world is made up of human beings and kamuy, who are related to each other and are in harmony as equals.
One of the reasons you started this project was because you turned to nature during the pandemic. What were you feeling?
Dark news was flowing and I became more and more depressed. The only salvation was nature, only nature was an unprecedented hope.
I realized the foolishness of exploiting nature as much as we humans like. I felt that I was as helpless as a sheep in a cage, I saw myself reflected on the livestock.
Most of the project photos are of animals. What was it like to portray them?
It’s difficult to meet wild animals in Japan, so I took pictures of animals raised by humans in zoos and farms.
We have seen many negative images of livestock, but I wanted to express each animal’s individuality, facial expressions, and beauty.
These animals are kept alive for humans, but they have the same spirit and emotions as we humans.
Your photos have an unrealistic aura. Pastel colors create a sweet feeling, but something is intriguing in the light and the animal’s facial expressions. Do your photos show something we don’t usually see? Do they reveal to us the existence of Kamuy?
The photos are colored, like paintings. By editing the photos, I imitate the vague boundaries between man-made and nature. The images are unrealistic to express that ambiguity.
Before Kamuy Mosir you had already taken pictures of elements from nature, especially flowers. The cultivated flowers that we buy also have that duality of being natural yet human-produced. Were there points in common in both of these projects?
This previous flower work and the Kamuy Mosir series are taken with a different consciousness. In Japan, there is a long-standing word that compares a modest woman to a flower. I deeply sympathized with the feminine flowers.
You live in Tokyo. Can you feel the presence of Kamuy in the city?
There are so many things in Tokyo that it is difficult to feel the existence of kamuy daily.
What are your future projects?
My goal is to increase the number of works in this “Kamuy Mosir” series and publish a photo book. I may do new projects again, but humans and nature are my big themes.