Her Mysterious Sculptures Activate Viewer's Curiosity

Boston Globe, May 20, 2005

Friday, May 09, 2008

by Cate McQuaid

Sachiko Akiyama's sculpted wooden people won't meet your eyes. It's not that her figures, on view at the Nielsen Gallery, come across as deferential. Rather, the 31-year-old sculptor has created characters so absorbed in their inner lives that they simply don't engage with the viewer the way we've come to expect in portraiture. She uses the slow, meditative process of carving wood to great effect: revealing how none of us can ever truly be seen and known.

The artist, born in New York of Japanese parents, attributes her characters' reserve to a Japanese sensibility. In her artist's statement, she cites that culture's ''belief in attaining knowledge not through action, but through silence, introspection, and passivity." For the viewer, there's a powerful allure in that passivity -- it's a door we cannot open, and we're hungry to find out what's inside.

Akiyama provides hints in the poses and surroundings she creates for her sculptures. Birds show up in many of them, suggesting untamed alter egos. ''Between Dream and Memory" has the artist standing on a block, clutching a heron to her breast. It's a large, unwieldy bird with bright eyes. Although the woman's face is impassive, the image resounds with emotion: fear, fervor, passion.

''Sisters," a smaller piece, shows two women standing so close they seem to have created a wall against the world with their bodies, as if the two are protecting a tangle of secrets. ''Passage" has a woman sleeping on her side. She's been swept off into her own dreams, and we cannot go along. An owl perches on her hip, part guardian, part avatar of the woman's nocturnal adventures.

We can never know the people Akiyama portrays -- and that makes them more fascinating.


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