Monday, June 18, 2012

Kenji Matsumoto: Japanese Sensibilities in Indian Wood

Photo c/o Kenji at

Two hours south of Chennai on the southeastern coast of India is a town called Auroville. In stunning contrast to the surrounding region, Auroville is thoughtfully planned, clean, and international. A number of buildings and street lights are solar powered. The town is run more like a collective than an oligarchy.

A view of the Matrimandir, an incredible structure at the center of the town that is wrapped in petals of glass tiles that enshrine real gold. It is an architectural marvel.  One can go on a tour and meditate in its white inner chamber lit by a ray of sunlight hitting a clear globe. I felt that I was in a space ship made by magical elves!   
Much of the food available is organic and delicious. They have outdoor exhibits featuring the far-off cultures like Khazakstan and Tibet, as well as advancements in green technology.   

The Auroville Visitor Center

It is here that Kenji Matsumoto moved from Japan with his wife, Ikebana teacher Valeria Raso, over 10 years ago. He began by using the large knarled roots of felled trees to create highly original stands for Valeria's ikebana arrangements. When the stands became popular, Kenji expanded into tables--creating one-of-a-kind furniture  pieces of exquisite beauty by hand. 

Photo c/o Kenji

Being June, I was visiting during the hot off-season when Kenji's studio happened to be on break. His apprentices were away and the shop had been quiet. Still, he generously opened it up to show me his tools and talk about his work. 

Kenji's process is intuitive. He looks at a raw piece of wood and designs from the existing patterns in its grain. Rather than shave off what others would consider irregularities, he brings them out as beautiful forms. He is a sculptor in collaboration with nature.  

I asked Kenji how his work is received in India. He said, like the Japanese, Indian people have a very close and spiritual relationship with nature. Thus, they have an appreciation for pieces that reflect nature's beauty and want such things in their home. The people who commission and purchase his work love that each piece is one-of-a-kind. Such furniture is not as common in India as it might be in Japan and other East Asian countries, where this aesthetic and craft has developed over hundreds of years.   

Photo c/o Kenji

All other photographs by B.A.M.

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