Research at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum

Conducting Research at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum

 Fibers used in cultural properties come from a variety of sources including hemp, ramie, kudzu, and bashō (Japanese banana). As discussed in the May 2017 monthly report (Takuyo YASUNAGA, “Historical Position of ‘Hakubai-zu byobu’ by Goshun-A workshop is organized by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems”), we have learned in the more recent years that in addition to silk and paper, fiber is also used as the support medium in paintings. There are no well-defined, established methods of identification, however, in part due to the difficulty of discerning the characteristics of individual fibers once in textile state. Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (TNRICP) is working to find a solution to these and other problems, in a cooperative research effort into fiber identification among the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems; Center for Conservation Science; and Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
 As a part of this research, the three-dimensional forms of fibers in a calligraphy work and a dyed article made of bashō-fu (textile woven from banana plant fiber) were examined using a digital microscope at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum from January 22nd to 23rd, 2019.
 Bashō-fu is textile developed in Okinawa and Amami Islands and has been designated an important intangible cultural property, with Ms. Toshiko TAIRA recognized as an individual practitioner and Kijōka Bashō-fu Preservation Society recognized as a heritage protection organization. Of the work examined this time, the calligraphy work is known to have been created in a particular year and the dyed article is an item whose wearer can be guessed at. The examination showed that despite being all works thought to be made of bashō-fu, the look and the feel of the textiles varied due to differences in yarn density and yarn processing method.
 While it is difficult to judge whether the differences are rooted in regional variation within Okinawa and Amami Islands or due to differences in use, we were able to conclude that many kinds of bashō-fu were created through different processes.
 Accurate identification of fibers goes to the most basic data on a particular work, and is a key element in considering the circumstances of production. It is also a pressing issue in the organization of basic data for use in the present repair or the passing on to future generations of intangible cultural heritage.
 We hope to continue furthering the research into identification of fibers through field investigations into techniques in conjunction with examination of exhibits at museums and art museums.

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