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Japanese sisters live on Borneo jungle art Print E-mail
Friday, 23 April 2010 18:18
<b>Art from Borneo rainforest</b>: Sisters Hikari  (<i>left</i>) and Midori Fujita with their paintings of wild  flowers.

Art from Borneo rainforest: Sisters Hikari (left) and Midori Fujita with their paintings of wild flowers.

Not big names, a little “gila” (mad), but their paintings sell

<b>Jungle flora</b>: Nature sells in Japan.

Jungle flora: Nature sells in Japan.

Hikari and Midori Fujita, two elderly Japanese artists (they won’t reveal their age), came to Sabah 10 years ago as tourists. They went to Danum Valley and fell in love with the flora and fauna of the Borneo rainforest. Three years later they returned to paint pictures of wild flowers and plants and sell them back home. They have been doing this for the last seven years, making a decent living from their jungle art on their 90-day tourist visa. “The Japanese who live in the city will buy paintings of nature,” says Midori, the younger sister.

By their own admission, they are little known in Japan. “It is very competitive in Japan where the standards are very high,” Hikari says. They come from Kamakura city in the Kanagawa prefecture, about one-hour train ride from Tokyo. But they have exhibited their paintings in France, America and Japan since the early 70s.

They sell their water colour paintings for ¥60,000 (2,000 ringgit; $630) a piece. Oil paintings sell for double that. They are displaying their paintings at the month-long exhibition at the gallery of the School of Art Studies of the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). The “Invited Artists Exhibition” ends on May 12. Ninety paintings of 40 artists are on show. Organised by the UMS and the Sabah Cultural Board, it is their way of thanking artists for their past contribution to the development of art in the east Malaysian state.

Every three months, the sisters would be shuttling between Kota Kinabalu and Tokyo or Bandar Seri Begawan when their tourist visa expires. “We don’t have enough money to join the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme,” Hikari says. Sometimes they get part time jobs, such as teaching at the UMS, which allow them to stay longer on work permits.

MM2H would have allowed them to stay for 10 years if they keep 150,000 ringgit ($45,500) in a Malaysian bank and show a monthly income of 10,000 ringgit.

<b>Amid trees</b>: Separation of light from darkness.

Amid trees: Separation of light from darkness.

“To be an artist in Japan, you must either come from a rich family or you are ‘gila’ (mad),” says Midori laughingly. “We sell enough paintings to pay for our monthly expenses of about 3,500 ringgit.”

Midori says the highest she has ever earned from a painting in Tokyo was 17,000 ringgit. “In Sabah, the highest I got was about 1,000 ringgit.”

The sisters have been living in a rented two-bedroom flat, about 116 square metres, at Waikiki Condominium at Tanjung Aru beach for the last seven years, paying a monthly rental of 1,500 ringgit. It is also their art studio.

“It’s impossible to get such a big studio in Tokyo,” Midori says. “One half the size would cost us three times what we’re paying.”

They hold about three small exhibitions and one bigger one in Tokyo every year, each lasting for a week. Sometimes they get to hold them for free. Otherwise they would have to pay about 16,000 ringgit for a week’s rental of a gallery.

They no longer go to Danum Valley to get ideas for their paintings. Midori says they couldn’t afford a night stay there because the accommodation price has more than doubled to between 1,400 and 2,000 ringgit. “We just go to the beach and imagine what it is like at Danum,” she says.

They spend five hours a day painting either early in the morning or the evening. “We can’t concentrate in the hot afternoon,” Midori says.

Their only complaint is that there are not enough galleries in Sabah to show their works. “Sabah should set up more small galleries in towns and the city like in Japan so that people can go there easily,” says Hikari. – Insight Sabah

– Reported by Ng Jia Xiang; Pictures by Joseph Jupiol

Source: http://insightsabah.gov.my/article/read/332



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