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São Paulo




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Year Built



Shoko Suzuki


Shoko Suzuki and Yukio Suzuki






Woman owned, Historic or cultural landmark


Shoko Suzuki (Tokyo, 1929-) had immigrated to Brazil in 1962 after watching a television program on the Japanese national broadcaster NHK about Brazil. The show displayed images of the now-scarce virgin areas of the Amazon Forest and the capital Brasilia, built in a deserted region virtually from scratch, in an ambitious design project by modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012). Those images fed the artist’s desire to leave Japan, after having experienced the horrors of the Second World War, and gender discrimination. She longed to start somewhere anew, somewhere where a rigid tradition and social norms wouldn’t constraint her freedom and creativity. As a woman in post-Occupation Japan, she had had to overcome barriers to find a master to teach her ceramics. At renowned exhibitions such as the Tôtôkai, held by the ceramic art association of the same name founded by potter Hazan Itaya (1872-1963), she was the only woman amongst a group of forty male potters.

After watching the NHK show in late 1961, Suzuki rushed to put her house for sale and gather all the documentation necessary to undertake the official emigration process. She arrived in the Santos port of São Paulo state in Brazil, aboard the Argentina-Maru ship, in May 1962, after a two-month journey. Soon after, she rented a water-and-daub house in Mauá, countryside of São Paulo, where she started gathering and experimenting with local clays, feldspars, and ash glazes made from local plants and vegetables. In 1964, she and her husband, painter Yukio Suzuki, bought a house in neighbouring Cotia, where she immediately started to work on the construction of a Japanese traditional woodfired climbing kiln noborigama (brought to Japan by Korean craftsman in the sixteenth century after the so-called “Pottery Wars”). She used a kiln project that she had been given by a friend, potter Yoshikazu Shinoda, who had studied with Living National Treasure Yuzo Kondo, as a farewell gift. For materials, she used second-hand recycled bricks from the nearby Mizuno porcelain factory that had been set up by Japanese immigrants four years earlier. While building a climbing kiln was not a part of her initial plan, it turned out that the steep inclination of the terrain was perfect for it. She says:

"I was not going to build a noborigama in Brazil. But my friend gave me his project, and in Japan, it was a very strict tradition. He was the student of a very important person (…). In those days, potters kept secrets, but he said: ” I will give you this kiln project because you are going to the end of the world”. Then, [after seeing the land] I thought: “I will use it”. The size of the kiln is small and the inclination [of the land] is exactly [right] for the kiln."

Shoko Suzuki spent two years doing clay and glaze tests in her new kiln before showing her work publicly. In 1967, she called members of the Japanese-Brazilian community to the official kiln opening at her studio, an event that ended up assembling a total of 800 people. In 1975, Suzuki displayed her ceramic work at a solo exhibition at the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), one of the most renowned art museums in Brazil, and the first Japan-born ceramic artist to do so. In 1984, she finally had the opportunity to admire Niemeyer’s modernist constructions first-hand when she went to Brasília for an exhibition at the Federal District Cultural Foundation. And in 1995, she returned to Japan for the second time after leaving for Brazil, for a series of exhibitions in commemoration of the Centenary of the Brazil—Japan Friendship Treaty held at The Niigata Prefectural Museum of Art and other institutions around Japan. The exhibition was called “Contemporary Japanese-Brazilian Artists” and she was the only ceramicist in a group of 37 artists. In 2017, Shoko Suzuki received an Order of Merit by the Japanese government for her outstanding contributions to Japanese culture.

During one of her visits to Japan, an old potter friend, looking at Suzuki’s ceramic works at an exhibition, said that she was no longer “Japanese”. Suzuki laughed joyfully when telling me this story at her studio: “I was so happy! I wanted to be in the middle. I wanted to learn by stepping on the floor, alone, absorbing.”

In 2006, Shoko Suzuki’s apprentice, Ivone Shirahata built a noborigama climbing kiln following the same design as the plan Suzuki received before leaving Japan, at her studio Terra Bela, named Akebonogama (meaning dawn). It is the third of its kind, after the original one built by potter Yoshikazu Shinoda in Nagano, named Metobagama, and Suzuki’s Saigama.

Sources: Liliana Morais;
Images: Artist's personal archive; Any Guelmann

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