Monday, August 09, 2010

Arms and crafts: Return of the Samurai

Among the highlights of the huge Asian collection at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – 8,000 artifacts making up more than 40 per cent of the gallery’s collection – is a group of Samurai suits that date back to the 16th century. Ornate, functional and dripping in history, each suit has a story to tell about the samurai warriors and pre-industrial Japan. Return of the Samurai, which has just opened at the AGGV, features 12 samurai suits, 23 helmets, and other paraphernalia, much of it donated or lent to the gallery by Trevor Absolon, a dealer and collector who runs Toraba Samurai Arts. Absolon says each of these suits may have taken some two years to fabricate. “Most samurai invested more money into the building of their armours than they did in the homes they lived in.”

It was common for designers to use animal and insect symbolism on the helmets and the dragonfly, or kachi mushi, was considered strong and invincible. Helmets often featured deer and rabbit designs as well. “Some of the symbols they used to us would seem really ludicrous,” says Absolon. “You’ll see a really fierce-looking armour with a big rabbit front crest on it and you [wonder], what does the rabbit have to do with any of this? They [were used because] of their agility and speed; but also in Japanese folklore rabbits could go into the underworld and they had mystical powers.”

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail