It’s no secret that artwork is often symbolic of something much larger than itself. Artists have the unique ability to represent infinite ideas by creating something that’s decidedly finite — something that has boundaries and borders.
While the finished product is often no less abstract than the idea it represents, something powerful happens when viewers are confronted with physicality in the face of a concept that often only exists in thought. This is precisely what Japanese artist Isana Yamada achieved with his latest project, Samsara.
This installation is comprised of six handmade whales that represent the six Buddhist realms.
By creating various underwater scenes and placing them inside the bellies of these whales, he represents the Human Realm, the Heavenly Realm, the Asura, the Animal Realm, Hell, and the Ghost Realm.
Aside from being visually striking, the collection holds a special place in Isana Yamada’s heart. “In ancient Japanese,” he writes, “Isana means whale.”
While creating these pieces, he drew from the legends of Tsukumogami. Traditionally, Tsukumogami are inanimate objects that are given life and sentience after being inhabited by ancient spirits.
Yamada describes the series as being a collection of Tsukumogami. Since the spirits that traditionally inhabit these vessels range from benign to vengeful, the analogy that Yamada creates between Tsukumogami lore and his own representations of the Buddhist realms feels seamless.
In a sense, Yamada’s creative process mirrors what happens in Tsukumogami legend. By breathing life into inanimate objects and materials, he mimics the behavior of the spirits that do the same. In the end, he marries the lore and philosophy that shape his worldview.