At the core of Katayama’s practice is living everyday within her own body, which she uses as a living sculpture, mannequin, and a lens through which to reflect society. The combination of Katayama’s hand-sewn objects, sculptural pieces, and photography challenges viewers to question the body and its complex relationship with the surrounding environment and society.
Following the amputation of her lower legs due to tibial hemimelia during her tender years of nine, Katayama concealed her corporeal impairment to assimilate with the norm and to be like “everyone else.” It was only at the age of sixteen that she consciously commenced her creative journey and see herself as an artist. Since then, Katayama has used her body, which keeps changing its shape, size, and societal roles, as a creative agent to engage, reflect, and forge connections with society, and to embark on an exploration of her own inquisitiveness concerning the common obsession with and yearning for (artificially engendered) beauty.
Katayama's artistic evolution has expanded from self-portraiture within her own room to going outdoors, capturing the bodies of others, and inviting the help of others. These experiences not only broadened her artistic approach but also made Katayama understand the difficulty and power of “living together”. She also came to recognize that she cannot say she alone owns her body, the vitality of which is only made possible by numerous people and support mechanisms, such as prosthetists who know her body better than she does, the disability welfare system, and her family and friends.
Although Katayama’s work takes personal matters as its starting point, these personal matters are not her themes. The essence of the questions and perspectives that emerge from her works and her activities are always directed toward society.
Katayama explains, “I am not aware that the person in the self-portraits is me. There is something in me that is the same as you. I am you.” Katayama's images and objects invite the viewers to engage with fundamental questions about the body, and the complex issues around it such as biased gazes, societal categorizations, and normative conceptions. Just as Katayama feels when she proceeds with making objects stitch by stitch with a needle and thread, experiencing her work could allow viewers to confirm their contours, shapes and roles in society, as if reflecting them into a mirror.
Mari Katayama (b. 1987) lives in Gunma, Japan. In addition to her creative activity as an artist, she works as a fashion model, singer, and keynote speaker. Katayama has been awarded numerous prizes; over the last fifteen years her work has been included in around fifty international solo and group exhibitions. Following major presentations at the fifty-eighth Venice Biennale in 2019 and at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris in 2021, her first exhibition in Vienna includes around thirty photographs and installations.