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Motoko Maio, Japanese, born 1948

Made in Japan, Asia

Heisei Period (1989-2019)


Silk and paper, mounted as a screen

a: 60 1/16 inches × 8 feet 9 1/8 inches (152.5 × 267 cm) b: 48 1/16 inches × 12 feet 1/8 inches (122 × 366 cm)

Curatorial Department:
East Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Howard H. Lewis and an anonymous donor, 2009

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Kotodama (“the soul of language”) is embellished with word-filled fragments of antique paper from books and accounting ledgers and layered scraps of red silk from kimono undergarments over a mulberry paper surface. For Maio Motoko, words have spiritual power: the assembled word fragments, having no meaning themselves, create a visual world of words. The pair of six-fold screens, a traditional functional Japanese form, are a superb example of Motoko’s screen creations. She has said, “Don’t you think that the screen is the material embodiment of Japanese culture? While a flat surface is being created, it is simultaneously three-dimensional. It freely changes shape and transforms space. Light and shadow can be created in the twinkling of an eye. It also communicates the sensitivities of beauty and in a physical form expresses the fleeting, transient nature of life. It is both a painting and an object—a bewitchingly ambivalent form.”

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    Invented in Japan, the folding screen with paper hinges is both an architectural element, serving as a portable wall, and a focus for aesthetic contemplation. One of the few contemporary artists working with this demanding art form, Motoko Maio has grafted her singular vision onto the traditional screen, adapting it to present-day Japanese culture. A superb example of Maio’s work, the surface of this pair of six-fold screens is layered with pieces of red silk cut from a kimono and with scraps of paper from antique books and ledgers. The reverse side of each screen is covered with these paper fragments, creating a dynamic and visual world of words. Felice Fischer, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 421.