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28 March 2013 - 19 May 2013, Villa Ciani - Lugano

Ainu, Ancestors, Spirits and Bears. Photographs by Fosco Maraini. Hokkaido

As part of the celebrations for the centenary of Fosco Maraini’s birth, the Museo delle Culture in Lugano and the Museo Nazionale della Montagnain Turin have organized a temporary exhibition about the Ainu people.  Fosco Maraini was born in Florence on the 15th of November 1912. As of the mid 1930s, his photographic interests included exploring the cultures and the world of the mountains, which were to become his third great and indomitable passion during his lifetime. His Himalayan experience in 1937 finally convinced him to study Ethnology and Eastern cultures. He therefore moved with his family to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, where he studied the art and culture of the Ainu, the so-called “white people” of Japan.

Also exhibited: 

  • December 14, 2012 – March 3, 2013, Museo Nazionale della Montagna, Turin

Foto gallery

The Photographs

During at least four separate trips on Hokkaido, Fosco Maraini immortalized the Ainu lifestyle, places and ceremonies. This trips produced a number of very valuable photographs which, among many other things, also document the Iyomande ceremony: the sacred“sending-off” of the bear. In 1954, Maraini managed to capture on film one of the last authentic ceremonies following the traditional rituals. 

The Ainu

In the past, the Ainu (which in the local language means “human beings”) lived in a vast geographical area. It stretched from the southern to the northern part of the Sakhalin island (or Karafuto in the Ainu language) and from the Kuril islands and parts of the Kamchatka Peninsula to the south of the Tsugaru Peninsula at the northern end of Honshu (Japan’s main island). As a result of historical events, the Ainu population decreased drastically and they moved to the island of Hokkaido. 
The Ainu were animists and their religious beliefs permeated many aspects of their daily life. According to their conception of the universe, a deity or a spirit (kamuy) resided in all things: animals, plants, minerals, natural phenomena or objects. In addition to hunting and fishing, the men’s main activities consisted in the preparation and the celebration of religious rites. 

The Exhibition

The exhibition displays 62 fascinating and beautiful photographs taken by Fosco Maraini among the Ainu on Hokkaido island between 1938 and 1940, as well as in 1954, 1963 and 1971. There is also a series of objects belonging to the Ainu material culture. These objects are extremely rare and valuable and were collected by the great Maraini and then donated to the Museo di Storia Naturale in Florence. In addition to the photographs, these objects will help the visitors to understand the fascinating life and culture of the Ainu people.

Ainu, Ancestors, Spirits and Bears. Photographs by Fosco Maraini. Hokkaido

edited by Günther Giovannoni
Collezioni fotografiche del Museo nazionale della Montagna, Torino 2012
cahier museomontagna / 178
ISBN 978-88-7376-057-3