Tomotatsu Gima: Recycled Images


Artist Tomotatsu Gima draws from imagery found in Okinawa to create pop collages that critique mass culture and its consumerist lifestyle. We stopped by his studio to talk about his images and motivations for making art.


Cotonoha Where did the idea of Pop Art come from?

Tomotatsu Gima I was very influenced by the Pop Art movement that originated in America.

I grew up in a very rural, and remote village in Okinawa named Chinen. When I was little, I longed for life in the city, but even the nearest town, Naha, felt so very distant. Nevertheless, my uncle, a lover of laser discs, would regularly bring discs of American movies for my family and me to watch. Through popular films like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future, I learned of America and places such as New York.

Later, while studying art in high school, I came across a book that explored the history of Pop Art. This book had an enormous impact on my artistic development.  

Cotonoha Did anyone in particular have a strong influence on your style?

Tomotatsu Gima Andy Warhol has been the most influential. However, I prefer the artwork of Peter Blake.

Cotonoha Why do you use cardboard in your artwork?

Tomotatsu Gima In high school, I’d visit Makishi Public Market, a local market in Naha City, where I'd find — and still do find — mountains of trash comprised entirely of cardboard boxes. Realizing that everyday commodities such as soup, consomme, juice, ketchup, and meat came from abroad and entered Okinawa packaged in those cute and colorful boxes, I figured it'd be amusing to recycle them and create representations of the products that those boxes once contained.  


Cotonoha How do you feel about the things or images you introduce in your artwork?

Tomotatsu Gima  I love them. That’s why I collect them and incorporate them into my work.

Cotonoha Ok. Let's play a word-association game. I'll say the name of something that you introduce into your artwork; please respond with anything that comes to mind.

Tomotatsu Gima Okay.

Cotonoha Bireley’s
Tomotatsu Gima Okinawan blood, Okinawan water

Cotonoha T-shirt
Tomotatsu Gima A part of the body

Cotonoha Drink bottle
Tomotatsu Gima Bomb

Cotonoha Spam
Tomotatsu Gima An Okinawan meat, strange meat

Cotonoha Coca-Cola
Tomotatsu Gima Bomb

Cotonoha New York
Tomotatsu Gima Exciting and enjoyable

Cotonoha Star Trek
Tomotatsu Gima Bible

Cotonoha American flag  
Tomotatsu Gima Intimate and scary  


Cotonoha Which of these images should we talk about?

Tomotatsu Gima Coca-Cola is a large company, so let’s talk about it.

In Okinawa, my generation increasingly had the opportunity to experience American culture, both high and popular, as it poured into our society from abroad and from the surrounding American military bases.

American movies were very influential, so for a long time, I felt that American culture was very attractive. However, now as an artist looking at the world with more clarity, I'm acutely aware that Coca-Cola products are found in almost every country: a condition that unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and one that when viewed from an opposite perspective, is really alarming.

There’s a film called Good Bye, Lenin that's set in East Germany just after the collapse of the county's government and the introduction of democracy. The movie depicts several of the changes that the society experiences, one of which is the immediate entry of Coca-Cola: an event portrayed with the mounting of a giant banner advertisement on the side of a building. The scene is frightening and gives me goosebumps.

I’ve also read about a similar development in Syria. Admittedly, I don't know much about the situation there, but according to the article, the moment Coca-Cola entered Syria local soda producers went bankrupt.  

Many countries have faced a similar experience the moment they opened their borders. Products from companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Campbell flowed into their societies; and perhaps because those foreign goods were inexpensive or appetizing, they, like a powerful gust of wind, displaced locally produced ones. They became essential to daily life, and in the process changed pre-existing cultural practices that structured the lives of communities in those countries. Coca-Cola has immense power to transform cultures. Coca-Cola is a bomb, and I've been bombed!

Cotonoha So would introducing the imagery of Coca-Cola into one of your pieces cause it to become a bomb as well?

Tomotatsu Gima Perhaps. Wouldn't it? I guess I'd like for it to be. I think that anyone who has a thorough understanding of my art would come to imagine it as such.   

Cotonoha Why do you make art?

Tomotatsu Gima There’re a couple of reasons. On the one hand, I make art because it's something that I enjoy doing. However, on the other, I hope to bring attention to the dangers of mass culture and consumerism and inspire viewers of my work to reject these influences by adopting a simpler lifestyle.


Interview Daryl Mitchell | Naoko Uchima
Words Daryl Mitchell
Photography Satoru Yoshikawa

InterviewsDaryl Mitchell