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The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century


It was almost 30 years ago, one steamy, hot summer day, when I saw someone walking Siberian Husky dog on a busy street in Bangkok, Thailand. It was when the word globalization started to appear here and there. Why a Siberian anything in Thailand?

I want to know about the world I live. I came to this foreign country, the US, when I was in my 30s. A personal paradigm shift including cultural and language differences strengthened my curiosity of wanting to make sense of this place. Mundane quotidian objects of our times surely inform us about our current existence. Both events and “stuff” in our lives have root causes or reasons. My approach is using the mundane as an extension of the broader world. 


In this body of work, I chose to use a micro perspective to see my world by borrowing Umeyama’s view. Umeyama is not a hero, rather, he is a mediocre scholar who time-travels to various times and places. His base point is the Japan of 170 years ago. His time was when the country was under governmental enforced national isolation. I see some similarities between one’s process of knowing and living with very limited information about other countries. There are many parallels between him and myself, but he is not my alter ego. I use him to see the world more objectively through his subjective view, yet some traces of my subjectivity are not denied in my works. 

The concept of dog breeds is relatively new. Within the last 150-200 years, most dog breeds were established through generations of artificial selections and intentional breeding to achieve certain desirable characteristics. Therefore, what you are about to see are not just dog portraits but a representation of this time in which we live. Dogs are the most variable of all mammals. It’s no exaggeration to say that their current physical traits are a reflection of human history, ambition and culture of the last 200 years. 

In Japan, during the time when Umeyama lived in the mid-19th century, dogs were loosely divided into four categories: Inu (regular Japanese dogs with erected ears and tightly curled tails, e.g., Shiba), Kouken(Western tall dogs especially with hanging ears, e.g., Greyhound), Nouken (long-haired dogs) and Chin (small dogs in general).  Chins were considered to be dogs, however, often they were anecdotally seen as cross existences in between dogs and cats.

When Umeyama saw dogs in North America and in Germany in the 21stcentury, the diversity of physical appearances amazed him. To him, there were no conceptual differences between pure breed or mongrel. He truly appreciated unique and one-of-a-kind appearances of mutt dogs and saw business opportunities, resulting in him creating a lot of drawings of them.

Again, Umeyama’s original intentions for dog drawings were materialistic, and his was a speculative money-making. However, there is something universal thing in the dog-human relationship. People love dogs regardless of time, culture or value system. Dogs unconditionally love people. It is time for us to once again contemplate how we have transformed them and how we can repay their love by respecting them as faithful companions.
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