Resting on the west coast of Taketomi, an island in the Yaeyama archipelago in southern Okinawa, stands a rock. Surrounded by the movement of the tides of the sea, this rock, named Niran, is unlike other rocks. It stands out from the sea, upright, as if a sculpture on a pedestal of petrified coral. Its magnifying appeal comes from being a sacred rock and upon closer examination, one will find that it plays a central role in the spiritual ceremonies conducted by female shamans on the island.
The Yaeyama Islands, situated on the outmost southern borders of Japan, are known to house matriarchal communities, which are often headed by female spiritual leaders, shamans, who act as mediums between nature and the human world. Sacred rocks, such as Niran, play a central role in their belief system, which is a hybrid of Shintoism, Buddhism and Chinese and Micronesian mythologies.
Since 2016, artist Melvin Moti has been returning to the Yaeyama Islands to photograph and document Niran and other sacred rocks on several Yaeyama Islands. Over 30,000 photographs have been assembled for Moti’s latest film, Interwoven. The stories, oral histories and mythologies surrounding these rocks point to the ancient custom of storytelling as an elemental part of human nature.
A second important component of the shamanic spiritual practice of the Yaeyama Islands is the act of weaving fabrics. By the use of an elaborate process – obtaining thread from fibres of banana trees, extracting dyes from local plants and utilizing the complex technique of double ikat weaving – each piece of woven fabric takes several years to complete. The fabrics are worn by shamans during their rituals, reflecting their close relationship and interaction with the natural world. Each piece of woven textile, assembled from small portions of nature, is in fact a long meditation on time. They could, therefore, be considered a time-based medium. To accompany the film, a new series of handwoven fabrics from the Yaeyama Islands will be presented.
A self-published artist book, containing notes, photographs and research, will be made available during the exhibition.