Natalie Andrews (Perth, prev. Tokyo)

It has been rather lonely for Australia on the sprawling stage of the Tokyo international art scene.

Historically, we’ve been small in number and presence in the Japan International Art Exchange Exhibition—an annual peer-to-peer exhibition which has been running in various public galleries throughout Tokyo since 2000.

Supported by Shimmin Garou and sponsored by the Royal Thai Embassy, the Japan-China Association, and the Ministry of Culture of the Chinese Embassy in Japan, this event typically sees hundreds of artists from numerous countries flock together, sharing fascinating works and cultures with others from all around the world.

The U.S.A., Thailand, and China have dominated the arena and up until this year, only a scarce few from down under have been a part of the colourful tapestry.

The 22nd Japan International Art Exchange Exhibition at The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 2023.

But now a new story is being woven, as two of those individuals are helping to make their country shine bright in the exhibition’s 23rd iteration.

Hailing from the humble Perth in Western Australia, award-winning artists Peter and Jill Ciemetis were given an important mission by the International Art Exchange Exhibition and Preparatory Committee to gather more of Australia’s fantastic talent and bring it to Japan for others to engage with this June.

“I first met the Japan International Art Exchange Exhibition Coordinator Katsu Shimmin in China a decade ago, and I think we developed a mutual admiration for each other’s work, leading to our first invitation to his program in 2016,” Peter said.

“Over the years, our participation has grown to the point where we’ve now been appointed as advisors to the committee and charged with the responsibility to coordinate a greater Australian contingent.”

Armed with determination and the thrill of showcasing more of their country’s artistic expression, the couple put their feelers out, seeking artists in their networks and by recommendation—the most important condition being that representatives needed to be of a high calibre.

“Most of the Australasian participants in this exhibition have esteemed CVs, works in important collections, and they have received major awards and recognition,” Jill said. “We found some fabulous artists of the highest reputation.”

The final result was a team of 14 renowned creatives—including Jill and Peter themselves—equipped with individual flair, a discerning eye for detail, and unique ways of perceiving the world, which they translate into their mediums with remarkable finesse.

Their portfolios range from oils to printmaking to projects assembled via a CNC robot router; others even tap into our other senses with carefully crafted soundscapes. They investigate themes of identity, place, hidden meanings, and more, making for a veritable display of masters at work.

Peter and Jill have two main goals when they bring these offerings to the exhibition. Firstly is, as Peter terms it, cross pollination, which will contribute to the building of relationships between Australia and Japan.

“We hope to share an Australian viewpoint and Australasian accomplishment but equally learn from the rich tradition of Japanese design, innovation, and art,” he said. “We also hope to round out the perception of Australian endeavours, which in Japan, relates mostly to resources, sport, and wines!”

Seeing this involvement as a valuable contribution to soft diplomacy between the two countries, Jill and Peter’s second aim is for the people they have brought into the fold to make new connections and continue to grow their worldwide presence.

“The exhibition gives us and fellow artists an opportunity to make friends and connections, which often leads to other projects,” Jill said. “In my case, I met U.S.A. artist Linde Caughey in the 2019 exhibition. I introduced her to a global collaborative project based in Adelaide, culminating in ongoing flow-on events and pursuits.”

Peter said this was to be one of the more serendipitous and impactful occurrences resulting from the exhibition—not only for the later collaboration between Jill and Linde, but also because one of their joint works was picked up by former New York jazz singer Chris McNulty, who used the artwork on a reissue of her Billboard-ranking album Eternal.

For the visitors themselves, Jill and Peter are hoping the gathered Australasian contingent will inspire and surprise them.

From Saturday June 15 to Thursday June 20, art lovers can drop into the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to view these wonderful works free of charge.

Jill said to expect a professional, esteemed, and convivial atmosphere where you could see the labours of love of more than 130 artists, providing an exciting and reflective experience for all attendees.

And for any fellow Australians in the crowd, it’s a great opportunity to get a little taste of home.

Jillian Ciemitis, A Story of Four Parts, screenprint, 45cm x 60cm

The 2024 International Art Exchange Exhibition will be held on June 15-20 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Admission is free!

For more information on the Australasian presence in the upcoming Japan International Art Exchange Exhibition, head to www.australianartistsabroad.com.

For further details on the exhibition, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum website.

An assistant language teacher with the JET Programme for three years (and a previous copyeditor for CONNECT!), Natalie returned to her hometown of Perth in mid-2022 and soon picked up a subeditor role for a news media company. While she loves the written word, sitting down all the time makes her a bit restless–out of work you’ll probably find her on a badminton court, in the climbing gym (V1s only) or chilling with some friends.

Catch her on LinkedIn.

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