Mud man tells the story of a community visited by bird droppings that resemble clumps of mud falling from the sky. These droppings awaken the slumbering people, who pick the clumps up to listen to voices emanating from within. These voices recite poems of their history, nature, and other similar communities. The video was shot in both Okinawa and Jeju Island in South Korea; the two share many affinities, with Jeju also having been an independent kingdom in the past. Yamashiro remarks of the inspiration for the piece: “One day when I was collecting materials at their cultural protest [Okinawans protesting the construction of a new military base], I saw people lying on the ground, smiling as they sang and clapped … it appeared as if their hands had sprung up from the earth. The people there used their bodies to express their will to protect the sea, the sky and the island.”
Chikako Yamashiro’s practice engages deeply with the socio-historical realities of her native Okinawa, often obliquely addressing the issues of cultural identity, geopolitics and the persistence of historical memory, using lyrical, enigmatic narratives. The present-day prefecture of Okinawa is a strand of islands located at the edge of the East China Sea, and existed as the independent kingdom of Ryukyu until its formal annexation by the Japanese Meiji government in 1879. The islands witnessed one of World War II’s deadliest battles, and today continues to play host to American military bases – a point of contention in Okinawa.