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“Neither human nor objects. Dolls are transcendental existence.” —— Ruiji Aiba 

SEIZAN Gallery New York is proud to announce Dancing With An Octopus, a solo exhibition of Japanese ceramic artist Ruiji Aiba. On view from September 7th through October 21st, 2023, the show features over 50 ceramic dolls and “Netsuke” pieces produced in the last 8 years. The opening reception is Thursday, September 7th, 6-8pm. 

Based in Seto City, the epicenter of Japanese ceramic making since 10th century, Aiba has pursued a unique path as a ceramicist. He refers to himself as a doll artist. The masterful skill and decades-long devotion he brings to this traditional craft is reflected in the artwork.

The original inspiration of Aiba's dolls are traditional Saga Dolls and Gosho (Palace) Dolls. These child-figures are characterized by a plump body, bright white skin and adorable gestures. Aiba also creates figures of children, innocently unclothed and at play with frogs, goldfishes, octopuses, or holding a skull. 

Unlike the traditional dolls which typically celebrate life (often gifted to a newborn), the artist emphasizes the ominosity aspect of dolls. As his quote suggests, dolls are more than a toy to play with. They can transport us to other worlds, bridging between life and death. 

Aiba layers rich and various references and inspirations in his work: Buddhist statues, Ukiyoe prints, manga, and fairly tales from East and West traditions. 

For this exhibition, he created a series titled “Innocent Boys,” inspired by the Manju-Eating Doll. This traditional doll wears a kimono and holds a Manju cake cut in half. The story tells of a child who was asked if he loves father or mother more. In reply he cuts a Manju in half and asks which piece would taste better. Aiba’s “Innocent Boys” is a set of two standing figures, unclothed and with heart-shaped holes in their chests. They hold gold skulls in their hands instead of Manju, only one is cut in half. Such sinister playfulness is a defining feature of Aiba’s work. 

Another series features dolls and Netsuke wearing snail shells. The motif was inspired by a 1930’s tale by Nankichi Niimi, The Sorrow of A Snail. The story is about a young snail who learns his shell contains nothing but sorrow. He visits his fellow snails for help only to find their shells are filled with sorrow too. The story ends with the young snail's acceptance of fate. Some of Aiba’s boy dolls have snail shells on their backs, unaware of the fragility of what they carry on their back.


The exhibition also includes a group pf “Netsuke” pieces. “Netsuke” is a miniature ornament traditionally carved out of wood or ivory. Aiba creates ceramic Netsuke with impeccable craftsmanship. The motifs include a rabbit in an Eboshi hat playing out scenes from Alice in Wonderland, A Goblin Cat wrestling an octopus, and a decaying human head. Aiba’s extraordinary imagination and craftsmanship define each Netsuke. 

Ruiji Aiba was born in 1964 in Fukuoka, Japan and studied ceramic making in Aichi Prefecture Vocational School. While creating ceramic tablewares, Aiba became devoted to making ceramic dolls. Recent exhibitions were presented at SEIZAN Gallery (New York and Tokyo), Tsuboya Gallery (Kyoto), Gallery Kenbishi (Aichi), Ginza Mitsukoshi (Tokyo). 



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