An Exhibition of My Collection of Rustic Ko Ema at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin
September 30, 2013
I am thrilled to be showing my collection of 73 ko ema or small, rustic Shinto-Japanese votive paintings at The Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin. The Douglas Hyde Gallery runs a program of world-class contemporary art exhibitions, and I am honored that this exhibition is my second at this esteemed gallery. The first show, in fall 2009, was a selection from my collection of Japanese folk textiles.
I am particularly happy about this exhibition because I am especially fond of my collection of ko ema or small, rustic votive plaques which date to the early-to-mid 20th century. Ko ema are not easily found, and amassing a group this large and diverse was a challenge. I am grateful to the gallery’s director, John Hutchinson, for sharing my enthusiasm for this material and for offering to produce a full-scale exhibition.
The word ema means, literally, “picture horse.” The reason for this is that in centuries past horses were offered as gifts by the faithful to Shinto shrines. As this practice was a serious and often unattainable one for many, giving painted images of horses became popular.
Here we see many non-horse images. Ema are used as petitions for prayers to be answered, or in thanks for a prayer which was answered. Each of the images on these ema represents a personal request from an individual, and the images relate to the nature of the request.
Some ema offered to shrines by wealthy patrons are of large size and are elaborately painted, showing battle scenes or ships at sea, for example. Ko ema such as these are small and quickly painted. Each measures about 5″ x 8″ or 13 cm x 20 cm, give or take. These were painted by itinerant artisans who sold these plaques to those visiting a Shinto shrine.
Those of you who have visited Japan and have gone to temples or shrines have seen multitudinous layers of ema hanging outside a shrine. I imagine the ko ema in this exhibition once were hanging in similar way.
Although this collection is set, I am still on the hunt for more ema, particularly those that depict subject matter not included in this collection. This will take some time, patience, and the help of friends in Japan.
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