[Press and Public Relations] Deputy Ambassador of Japan to Open Leicester Exhibition [Tomodachi]

January 2001

No 5

His Excellency Ken Shimanuchi, Deputy Ambassador of Japan will open an exhibition of art by students at schools for the blind in Japan and England at the University of Leicester Richard Attenborough Centre.

Tomodachi, which will run from 19 February to 18 March 2001, follows the success of an exhibition of Japanese Calligraphy held at the Richard Attenborough Centre in 2000. It reinforces established links between the Richard Attenborough Centre, an arts education centre for everyone with special priority given to people with disabilities, and institutions with similar aims in Japan.

Julia Cassim, journalist with the Japan Times, has played a key role in bringing the Tomodachi exhibition to Leicester and will choose the work to be exhibited from the Gallery Tom in Tokyo and the RNIB New College in Worcester. With Sian Thomas, Organising Tutor for Sculpture at the Richard Attenborough Centre, and Yohei Nishimura a sculptor and educator from Japan, she will be hanging the work for the exhibition.

Mr Shimanuchi will meet with Professor Robert Burgess, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, on Monday 19 February 2001 before opening the exhibition at 2.00 pm. At 3 pm Yohei Nishimura will give a slide lecture on sculpture.

Mr Alan Caine, Associate Director of the Richard Attenborough Centre said: "We are honoured that His Excellency the Deputy Ambassador of Japan can open the Tomodachi Exhibition, which will display a fine range of sculpture and two-dimensional work by visually impaired students from Japanese and British backgrounds. We are also pleased to welcome Julia Cassim to Leicester again after the highly successful exhibition of Japanese Calligraphy."

The Exhibition will run at the Richard Attenborough Centre, University of Leicester, Lancaster Road, Leicester, from Monday 19 February to Friday 16 March 2001. Opening hours are 10 am - 4.30 pm Monday-Friday. For further details telephone +44 (0)116 252 2455, email RACentre@leicester.ac.uk.

Notes to editors: Background information follows. Further details are available from Julia Cassim, Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, Royal College of Art, telephone +44 (0)207 590 4582.

For information on the exhibition and the work of the Richard Attenborough Centre, University of Leicester please contact Mr Alan Caine, Associate Director, telephone +44 (0)116 252 2455.

For information on the RNIB New College, Worcester, please contact Mr Phil Little, 01905 763 933.


In April 1984, a gallery where visually impaired people could both show and enjoy handling works of art was opened in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was called the "Gallery TOM of Art 'Seen' with the Hands." Its first action was to put out a call for exhibits to students at schools for the blind throughout Japan and from these a panel of sculptors selected entries to be included in the first TOM Prize and Exhibition. The powerful and 'primitive' works in the exhibition, based as they were on a non-visual aesthetic and sensory world, aroused great public interest.

Art education at schools for the blind in Japan dates back half a century to the end of the Second World War. Activity, however, was confined to a few schools, notably those in Chiba, Kobe and the southern island of Okinawa. It was based on the transformation of earth to clay from which shapes were formed and then fired. This methodology gradually spread to schools for the blind throughout Japan and has become the common basis for much of their art activity even today. However, over the years there has been a shift in the nature of the student body at such schools with increasing numbers of children with multiple disabilities attending, rather than those with visual impairment alone. As a result, some schools for the blind have found it difficult to ensure that curriculum time is devoted to art activities, as was the case before.

Allied to this has been the lack of mainstream acceptance for works by visually impaired people both in Japan as elsewhere. The creation of the TOM Prize and the resulting spread of arts activities and displays of work by visually impaired people has led to its acceptance as a new genre in its own right. This has enabled their work to be seen outside Japan, too.

The primary incentive of children in the creation of the works for this exhibition was not to receive praise or participate in an exhibition, yet all are anxious for their work to be seen and appreciated by new audiences abroad as at home. Equally, we wish to show all those who visit the exhibition the particular teaching environment that encouraged and inspired these exhibits. And for those representing art galleries or other cultural institutions, we would like to introduce what we believe to be a new movement and allow you to take a measure of its warmth. Through this joint exhibition with students from schools for the blind in England, we hope that new friendships will be formed that will shape the nature of this new movement.

[Leicester University] [*] Administration [*] Press and Public Relations
Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: 05 February 2001 16:18
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