In the year 1962, at the Kyoto City University of Arts, someone asked :
“Are there any Japanese painting teachers who would like to go to India?”
That is how Fuku Akino (1908-2001), a Professor (at the Kyoto City University of Arts) found herself at the Vishva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan in Bengal. She was 54 years at the time, when she chose to take up the adventure!
Akino, one of Japan’s foremost women artists was a painter of the nihonga tradition. Nihonga is considered to be one of the earliest styles of Japanese paintings. She often participated in government exhibitions; at the age of 28, she won a prize at the Japan Arts Academy annual exhibition (this was rare in the Nihonga tradition).
In the years after the Second World War, Fuku Akino sought to ‘rejuvenate’ Japanese art; deviating from using traditional Japanese elements in art, she incorporated elements of Western art and other influences in her works. This led to her co-founding an association of painters, the Soga–kai Association of Japanese Painting.
Aged 54, she moved to Tagore’s Vishva-Bharati University to teach for a year, & fell in love with her environs. Thereafter, her trips to India became frequent; the allure of the people and their customs across the country, further influenced her painting style. During the next few years, she continued to travel across India and beyond. Her travels included Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Cambodia – places from here feature in her artworks.
For her contributions to Japanese art, Fuku Akino received the Order of Culture award in 1999. Her works, including those inspired by India are on permanent display at the Hamamatsu City Fuku Akino Art Museum.
From a girl bathing in the Ganga to a mud-wall in Madhubani, from India’s monsoons to the streets and temples, Fuku Akino observed Indian culture and people from close-quarters and painted it. Take a look at her paintings from her travels!
What is striking about Fuku Akino’s paintings is the intimate-perspective; she does not paint like other traveling artists, instead, she paints with a familiarity about India.
This seems to be a painting of the Jora Bangla Kali Temple in the village of Itonda (20 kms from Bolpur). The outer walls of this terracotta temple are covered in reliefs depicting Hindu deities and their stories.
In this painting, Fuku Akino captures a corridor at the Chennakesava Temple, (dedicated to Lord Vishnu). On the wall, you can spot the standing goddess surrounded by naga figures.
In her notes, Fuku Akino wrote : “House in Madvani village. On the whole wall, there is a tree of life that makes people feel happy. The roof is bricks baked with red clay, and the ochest wall spreads and feels bright.”
Buffaloes crossing the Ganges
Both the buffaloes and the river Ganga feature prominently in Akino’s works. She was fascinated by the form of the buffaloes and here’s a note she wrote:
It was the season when the rainy season arrived in June… the river Ganges has already risen and spreads like the sea, and the other side two miles away is drowned out by water. I stood in the ghat every day and watched the muddy flowing Ganges with floating grass and driftwood.
There are various cows and buffaloes in India…I wanted to draw a more muddy and rugged buffalo.
Fuku Akino’s works captured the culturally vibrant country – where nature, tradition and art come together organically. Her works depicting temples reflect her study of Indian aesthetics.
Here’s a striking painting from her travels in South India (1988):
For this article, we referenced Fuku Akino’s website, maintained by her family. Do take a look here for more artworks. If you find yourself in Japan, we recommend a visit to the Akino Fuku Museum (Shizuoka)