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The Death of the Maneki Neko: An Interview with Michelle Takamori

by Deanna Duxbury

Michelle Takamori exhibited in this Fridge Door Galley’s fall vernissage “Process(ed)” this past Friday at Glass Door Gallery on Saint-Laurent.

Michelle Takamori’s piece displayed in the Fridge Door Gallery 2016 vernissage this November.

Deanna Duxbury: Describe your artistic style and why you chose such a stark monochromatic image to portray the “death” of the talismanic Maneki Neko.

Michelle Takamori: I have quite a diverse artistic style, which I like to say ranges from creepily cute to beautifully dark. For the past two years I’ve been experimenting with black ink, looking to see how far I could push the limits of negative space. Drawing the Maneki Neko in that style only seemed right, considering the sombre situation. 

DD: Are you a superstitious person? What does the symbol of the “Lucky Cat” mean for you? Do you own a “Lucky Cat”? 

MT: I am not superstitious, but the “Lucky Cat” is part of my Japanese heritage, and so I feel a sort of connection to it. As of yet I do not, however I would definitely like to own a traditional Maneki Neko! 

DD: What made you chose this symbol above others? 

MT: The Maneki Neko allowed me to combine my love of animals with the idea of “dead symbols” that had been brewing inside my head for a while. Additionally, it relates to my trip to Japan that had initially sparked my interest of the history of the “Lucky Cat”.

DD: Do you think our society has corrupted other religious/spiritual symbols through over-processing? Can you give some examples that may have inspired you? 

MT: Yes, some of them. Miniature indigenous symbols such as totem poles can be regularly seen in souvenir shops, and even with large religions such as Christianity one can see an abuse of mass-production with some religious icons. There is a difference between making these religious symbols available for everyone to acquire and selling these symbols for the sake of attracting consumers. 

DD: When did you first realize that there was something wrong with the mass consumption of the Maneki Neko? 

MT: I realized this when I visited Japan a few years ago for the first time. While there, I observed that the majority of Maneki Nekos could be found either in homes or shrines, with some stores also housing the figurine. I was surprised to see how we as outsiders to the culture used this symbol as a means for a cheap gift, yet people on the other side of the world were treating the figurine with respect and honor. 

DD: I found it interesting you described the talisman as being a symbol of wealth and luck. Your art piece depicts the way we have capitalized on these figures and saturated them throughout society to the point of meaninglessness. Do you believe there is a way for society to reclaim the meaning behind these kind of popularized symbols? 

MT: It could be possible, but it would definitely require a massive education overhaul. Most of the time, people don’t really know or fully understand the meaning of such symbols, and that is the heart of the problem. I think if our society saw what the original purpose for these symbols were, we would not be purchasing and letting them collect dust on our coffee tables. You wouldn’t have an icon of the Virgin Mary on your desk “just because it’s pretty”, so why do that with any other spiritual symbol?

DD: How do you think others will receive your piece? Would it shock the traditionally superstitious? 

MT: I don’t think it would be shocking to those who are superstitious, but I think my piece can be jarring. We usually don’t perceive inanimate objects as capable of being dead, and so the skeleton-like cat emerging from the broken Maneki Neko leaves the viewer to wonder what could have possibly happened to have produced such a strange image. 

DD: What do you study at McGill? Do you feel that your area of study affected your work? 

MT: I’m currently studying Psychology and Marketing, with plans to go into Graphic Design. I don’t think my studies have affected my work that much, but being exposed to marketing strategies led me to constantly question why certain products sell and others don’t. This allows me to have a critical view on our society that thrives on mass consumerism. My work aims to let the viewer have a pleasant time looking at the art, and at the same time, realize that there’s something much darker lurking in the drawing.

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