The Kanazawa College of Art (金沢美術工芸大学, Kanazawa Bijutsu Kōgei Daigaku, literally Kanazawa Art and Industrial Design University) is a university in Kanazawa, Japan. It was founded in 1946 by the municipal government following the World War II. The graduate program opened in 1979.
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BY SOKICHI KURODA STAFF WRITER
Maki-e workshop in Bagan, Myanmar (Kanazawa College of Art)
Burmese may eventually look back on a meeting that took place in Bagan in central Myanmar (Burma) last September as a new beginning.
However that future unfolds, though, it was certainly a historic moment of contact between two proud craft traditions.
About 40 craftspeople from the area, which is known for its lacquer making, watched with intense concentration as a Japanese "maki-e" master demonstrated his art.
Maki-e is an ancient Japanese technique that involves applying lacquer to wood or other materials and applying metal powders such as gold or silver on the wet lacquer to produce intricate patterns of sometimes breathtaking beauty.
Few craftspeople in Myanmar know Maki-e decoration techniques. At the meeting in September, the Burmese artisans present were taking detailed notes.
The event was part of an educational exchange program launched by the Kanazawa College of Art in 2009, which organizes both personnel exchanges and technical teaching to help support Asian craft traditions.
Seven professors from the college and specialists in a variety of crafts such as dyeing, weaving, lacquerware, and metalworking, participate in the project.
Project leader Hideaki Kizaki, 52, who has been researching Asian dyeing and weaving techniques for the past 15 years, stressed that it was not just about Japan teaching other nations. The support and knowledge transfer went both ways.
"The roots of traditional crafts that a changing Japan has lost lie in Asia," he said.
In many Asian countries, traditional crafts are suffering at the hands of industrialization. It is often difficult for artisans trying to compete with cheap, factory-made products to make a living.
One of the Kanazawa College professors' goals is to support the economic independence of craftspeople and develop ways for them to commercialize their skills.
The roots of the program lie in a three-year research program begun in 2002, looking into craft traditions in Myanmar. Kizaki and his colleagues investigated the weaving and dyeing areas of Bagan and Amarapura, Myanmar's former capital, and worked to build a network among the local communities.
They offered guidance to locals on creating a distinctive brand for the area's handicrafts, and, in 2004, some work was exhibited at the Saunders' Weaving Institute in Amarapura. A museum to exhibit crafts was also constructed.
But the educational exchange program has taken the bilateral ties between the Kanazawa and Myanmar to a new level.
Su Hlaing, 25, from Myanmar is one of a new intake of overseas students admitted by the Kanazawa College of Art from this year to develop future arts and crafts leaders in Asian countries.
"In Myanmar, there's no awareness that traditional crafts are something of value. I would be very happy if I could learn advanced design techniques in Japan and put them to use in Myanmar," said Su, who is studying design at the college.
While the exchange program is currently focused on Myanmar, it is part of a wider network of connections with craftspeople and arts and crafts associations in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries developed since 2002. Artisans from Cambodia, Taiwan and other countries have been invited to the College's home in Ishikawa Prefecture. There are plans for the exchange program to expand to include other countries such as Laos and Cambodia.
"Traditional crafts may have been left behind by modernization, but they are a valuable, intangible heritage for humanity. Our school, which is located in Kanazawa, a place where traditional crafts are very popular, wants to assist with preserving and ensuring the continuation of these crafts," said Kizaki.