Entering Ami Suma’s illustrated spaces for children – on view internationally from New York to Tokyo – is like theater. The suspension of reality can be transformative.
And, just as acting can be viewed as an extension of childhood imaginative play, similarly, the delineation is obscure concerning for whom the illustrator – a former fashion editor – designs these walls: parent or child. Suma consults with both when commissioned for kid’s rooms, but her cool aesthetic makes an equally suitable backdrop for grown-up décor. What’s delivered is a one-off, customized stage for the theater of the imagination – as inherent to childhood as it is invaluable to adulthood, according to the artist.
It’s no coincidence that Suma is a child of actors. Hers are “free minded parents” who, in their youth, “fought for rights and freedom through avant-garde plays and experimental style” – something novel to 1970’s conservative Japan and instrumental in her choice of career.
“My father was always really funny with me”, Suma recounts, “always suggesting, how can you do this, but in a fun way?” A ban upon television meant hours of ad libbed and enacted bedtime tales. “It was natural for me to imagine a lot,” she continues, “I guess I’m still making up stories in my mind and I draw accordingly. I hope to deliver positive settings to imagine freely, because that’s who I was when I remember childhood.”
Suma also recalls a youth obsessed with interiors; bed, walls, floor and ceiling, all backdrops for her ad hoc swatches. “My bedroom was my ultimate space to imagine freely. To me, it was like a stage-set. By changing the décor I could change my imaginative scenery so I could imagine more”, a leaning she cites to explain her serene acceptance of the impermanent nature of her work.
The new mother believes that children raised in creative environments make more flexible and empathetic adults, able to “feel other’s pain” – a strong argument for the artist. But while the effect of her work upon the minds of its young patrons is palpable (one Mom savors her son’s colorful post-nap crib chats with his mural), Suma has yet to gauge its impact upon her new daughter. She’s simply been too busy.
Fresh off completing interiors for the international kids mega-tradeshow Playtime Tokyo, Suma dove straight into fundraising, organizing a benefit for earthquake victims and incorporating face painting into her repertoire for the event.
The overextended artist divulges, “I am so running out of time, all the time! But I’m curious to see … I hope it will give my daughter unlimited imagination and freedom of thought; not only all of my work but what I do, so I can be a living example of, hey – life is fun if you make it!
More fun here: