Local artist Melissa Ichiuji, center, talks with Rachel Mahoney while a photographer sets up for a shoot in her Cloud Street studio.
By KEVIN OLMSTEAD
FRONT ROYAL — A local artist will get her time to shine starting this weekend at a museum in Washington, D.C.
Melissa Ichiuji will have about 40 pieces on display in an exhibit called “Make You Love Me” at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. The exhibit opens Saturday and will remain on display until Dec. 18.
“I’ve been a part of other exhibitions, but this is my first solo museum exhibition,” said Ichiuji, who does her work in a studio on Cloud Street.
The collection includes pieces of varying sizes and materials, from small dolls to figurative sculptures that stand a foot or two taller than her.
“I use a lot of found objects; wasps’ nests, hair, … dried fruits that have been preserved with polyurethane,” she said.
The wasps’ nests were abandoned when she found them, Ichiuji clarified.
Certain themes run throughout her work, including motherhood, femininity and the objectification of women, as well as the general human condition of being born and decaying at the same time.
Ichiuji’s artistic endeavors began when she was 6 years old and a house fire left her family homeless. She began making dolls to cope with the trauma.
“There was a lot of chaos going on around and my mother was sort of absent because she was so depressed,” she said. So I made little dolls as a way to busy myself and find some meaning. She would be very entertained by them, so I continued to make them.”
She used fabrics that belonged to her mother, perhaps even bearing the scent of her perfume, she said.
“I think fabrics and things like that became really important to me because we had sort of lost everything that meant anything to us,” she said.
Old fabric and other materials that have some history are some of Ichiuji’s favorite materials.
“They have kind of a soul,” she said. “I tend to like to use materials that are from the past; things that, sort of, are resurrected.”
Photo courtesy of Melissa Ichiuji
Artist Melissa Ichiuji sits among about 40 of her sculptures that are packed for transport to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, where they will be displayed from Saturday through Dec. 18.
As she grew up and attended the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts in Washington, she thought she had outgrown dolls. She concentrated on dance, even touring with a troupe for a couple of years until she broke her ankle on stage.
It was the end of her dance career, but a new beginning for creation.
She returned to making dolls as a means of coping. In fact, her dolls have a spiritual significance. They are intended to be prayer dolls, she said. A person would have a question in mind and then pray with the doll.
“The idea is that it gives you a tool to listen to maybe your own intuition,” she said. Most of her dolls have no face. Instead, they have small mirrors.
“Often times, my figures don’t have faces because I feel like everything is in the body and it’s all kind of a universal language that could apply to anybody,” she said.
By the time of her injury, of course, she was an adult and her art also had grown. While she still makes the small prayer dolls, she also made figures larger than her.
“I decided that if I was going to make art, I should just go ahead and take it seriously,” she said, “so when I was in my mid 20s, I decided to go back to school.”
She got her degree in fine art from the Corcoran School of Art and Design at George Washington University.
Now she teaches art. She soon will begin teaching a class of about 20 students at American University. After that class is completed, she plans to take on about 10 students at her studio in town. More information is available at melissaichiuji.com.
Want to go?
WHAT: Vernissage for Melissa Ichiuji’s exhibit “Make You Love Me”
WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.