art and community development project in Okinawa_

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wanakio context: Okinawa-wanakiO

Looking from far away, Okinawa is a subtropical archipelago made up of a number of rather tiny islands in-between the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea that most Chinese, who live only a few hunderd kilometers away, wouldn't be able to pin point on an East Asian map. Looking from Tokyo, Okinawa seems a very desirable location to be, a somehow exotic place with turquoise sea and a still alive southern dance and music tradition. Especially young Japanese recently feel a strong fascination as Okinawa seems to epitomize the healthy local cultural tradition that is missing in most regions of extremely centralized Japan.

Over the past centuries Okinawa has experienced the strong influence of various cultures, spanning from the protectorate during the Chinese Tang Dynasty and the Japanese rule before and during the Second World War over the American occupation during the first post-war decades, to the most recent "japanization" as one of the 46 Japanese prefectures. The flexible but resilient way in which Okinawa has managed to incorporate features of all these cultures into it's own heritage has nourished a unique mix of culture peculiar to Okinawa, often referred to as "Champuru" culture (also: "Champroo"), "Champuru" being a term used for a stir-fry dish in which various ingredients are mixed to become a specific Okinawan flavor.

Looking at Okinawa today, it appears that Okinawa's Champuru culture is more and more overlaid by a one-dimensional culture as it is at the periphery of an incredible powerful cultural organism, that of Japan. The ability to incorporate the cultural input from various backgrounds is being replaced by a cultural hegemony from main island Japan, and it nowadays seems as if Okinawa is about to loose its own cultural center in which to integrate influences from outside.

There is no doubt Okinawa today is an integral part of Japan and this more or less by its own choice, but also Okinawa is strained in-between the two poles, one trying to satisfying a kind of Japanese "alter ego" and the other attempting to maintain its own independent cultural standpoint.

Okinawa's popularity amongst especially young Japanese that is commonly referred to as "Okinawa boom" ads another layer to the current cultural identity crisis as it is accompanied by a powerful media shower of simplified images that even younger Okinawans them-selves at times find difficult to distinguish from their daily Okinawan reality. A kind of inner Japanese exoticism that consumes cool stereotypes of southern island lifestyle and relaxed view on life that young Japanese, fed up with the still prevalent subtle social control they grow up with, are so much longing for.

Looking around in contemporary Okinawa we can find a huge gap between the ubiquitous imagery showing beach paradises and platitudes from traditional Ryukyu culture such as Sanshin, Shisa (the small dragon/doglike safeguard placed on many rooftops) and Akagawara (red tile roofs) and a much more complex reality that is dominated by suburban roadside development and convenient store chains as much as on Japan's main island.

Similar to many other regions around the world Okinawa is experiencing a crisis of its contemporary regional culture. But contemporary culture and especially contemporary art is the place where the status quo of a culture is captured and transformed into tangible images that are able to create consciousness of that culture of itself.

In this respect one of wanakios central tasks is to create a bridge between a non-compromising contemporary viewpoint on reality and Okinawa's peculiar local identity. Wanakio proposes to confront the creation process of artists, architects, designers and other creative actors with the social and spatial reality that we can only find in Okinawa, and as such to build bridges between locality and contemporaneity, between local experience and global thought, between people from here and people from there.

wanakio doesn't pretend to offer any methods for facing the apparent conflicts between locality and globalization, but it is a kind of bet on the vitality of local culture and an identity related to the experience of a certain location. After all regional culture is something very pertinacious and, despite of all the cultural imperialism and the dominance of the urban mega-centers, appears again and again, sometimes in rather odd ways, but always unique in the sense that it only exists in that specific location.

Titus Spree, Okinawa, February 2007

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