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July 16th, 2006
Sun, Jul. 16th, 2006 11:14 pm

The first thing I ever saw by Fumiko Imano was a 2002 piece on the ShowStudio site called Dream Closet. In it, Fumiko videos herself trying on expensive clothes in London fashion stores. There's something furtive about it; we're voyeurs of an obsessional, escapist private ritual, glimpsing someone else's narcissistic fantasy games. Then, on May 1st last year, while making a podcast in Paris, I ran into Fumiko in person. She was working at the time in select store Colette, up in the art gallery. She was dressed in pom pom slippers and a zigzaggy dress, and I shyly asked if I could take her picture. Not fitting any existing hipster or subcultural stereotype that I could identify, Fumiko seemed like an eccentric, a one-off, a Yayoi Kusama character floating around the fringes of the fashion world. "The most interesting-looking person I've seen in Paris," I reported at the time.



So I was delighted to see that Fumiko was holding an exhibition of photographs of herself (called, ironically, "I Look At You") at Ideal Showroom at Cafe Moskau during Berlin Fashion Week. "Every day life scene is Fumiko's playground," said the Jinglishy blurb of these self-portraits from the last seven years. "Whenever she gets inspired by beauty of any sense, finds a story or a concept or a scene, she sets the camera, pauses on her stage looking through the lens for an unseen future audience. So her picture concludes when she confronts her viewer directly, pretending to have a small affair. Until you see her, Fumiko is waiting to look at you."

Rather than a "small affair", Fumiko and I had a 12-minute conversation about her work, which I find reminiscent of the self-portraits of African photographer Samuel Fosso, star of the Africa Remix exhibition currently on show at the Mori Museum, Roppongi Hills. In a Guardian article about Fosso, the Central African dandy is quoted as saying:

"When I'm taking a self-portrait, I'm not looking to find out more about Samuel Fosso. I'm searching first of all to see my beauty. That's how I started. When I look at myself in the mirror, I am not looking to find out if what I see is an Ibo, a Central African or even a black American. The only thing I can see is Samuel Fosso, who is trying to make himself as handsome as possible before taking a self-portrait."

In our conversation, Fumiko attributes her self-portraiture to a childhood complex about her looks and figure. When I ask if her work is "political", she demurs. "Life is about clothes and food and how to live and stuff... I think it's very important... We don't know from where to where is politics."

Video conversation between Momus and Fumiko Imano (14 minutes, Google Video). If it's taking a while to load, you can watch this film of Fumiko on a shoot in Paris to pass the time.

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