MASA SUZUKI: Zen & The Art Of Begging

Earlier today, I was thinking about the weather changing and how it gets tougher and tougher for the homeless.  Also, I was thinking about how, in these difficult times, so many of us are in danger of not meeting those extortionate rent payments or  those crucial mortgage payments. That,  in turn, led me to think about the sculptures, the wood carvings, of Masa Suzuki.

I met Masa through a good friend who was learning chen taijiquan and qi gong from him. On a visit to Masa’s studio, which used to be in Dalston, he had been blown away by Masa’s art works which employed traditional Japanese wood carving techniques. He urged me to check them out, which I did, and they left a lingering impression.

Above and below are some images from a series that he worked on. They range from 50 cms to 10 cms in height and are based on his observations as a spiritual Japanese person living in the inner city. This is what Masa had to say about his work.

“My more recent works relate to my interest in the homeless people who beg for money on London’s streets. I am very interested in them because I feel that they reflect one of the ironies of British culture. Their lives are supported by the Christian virtue of charity. In Christian cultures, it is a virtue to help those who are suffering and those who are poor. I too believe in this Chiristian virtue of charity which has indeed helped many people, but also realise that it can be problematic-there is the risk that beggars may use the money that they are given to buy alcohol or drugs, which may worsen their situation.

“After I came to London, I was very conscious of the presence of beggars holding out their cups for money on the street. Just after the war, people begged for money in Japan, just as beggars do now in London, but it was always unusual. They were mostly those who had lost parts of their bodies in the war and were very unlike the more healthy beggars I see in London. In Japan, in general, to receive something as a charity is regarded as shameful; In the West, the spirit of charity is regarded highly, or at least the activity of giving money to others in need. I believe this is because of the Christian religious beliefs that influence Western culture and society.

“”I am particularly intrigued by the way the beggars sit all day without doing anything else. They just sit still and beg. This reminds me of how the Zen monks spend their time. Monks seek enlightenment by sitting still for long periods as part of their practice in the temple, and they make their living through other people’s donations because their meditation is respected. The circumstances and differences between these two groups of people are great, but interestingly, there are similarities in the way they spend their time. By creating a work depicting beggars, I want to draw attention to the lowest class of people in society, and to place them in one of the most respected cultural contexts-the world of contemporary art.

“By placing my sculptures of beggars at art galleries or museums, where things are looked carefully, I would like the audience to have a think about what those beggars are thinking and looking in the streets since we usually tend not to take a look at them.”

Unfortunately, just as Masa Suzuki’s works were getting the attention they deserved he had to return to to his native Japan – his partner a victim 0f current immigration policies – and so it will be most interesting to see whether his London experiences work in reverse and temper his observations of Japan, of a people, mutilated by another nuclear disaster. (Hopefully Masa will update from Japan!)

About Paul Brad

Freelance journalist / Publisher / Editor - Straight No Chaser magazine / Editor - L FM : Broadcasting In A Pandemic - Gilles Peterson (Worldwide FM) / Publisher: From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: A History Of The UK Jazz Dance Scene by Mark 'Snowboy' Cotgrove / Music Fan: Interplanetary Sounds: Ancient to Future / Cultural Event Consultant & Activist / Nei Jia practitioner
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