Where My Words Belong

Where My Words Belong, a group exhibition about “words” that looks at the diversity of linguistic practices in Japan and language rights, is coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

There are many different languages in the world, and each one contains a wealth of variations, such as different accents, or varieties in vocabulary and grammar according to one’s generation and experiences. Some people switch between different forms of language depending on the situation and whom they are speaking to: they might use vocabulary specific to a family or group of friends, or different languages altogether. Some thoughts can be conveyed without any words at all. These are all examples of personal use of language—what we mean by “My Words”— which are forever forming as part of communication . Just as we get a feel for the culture and history of a people by studying the language they have created, knowing someone surely begins by trying to accept their My Words as they are, without converting them into other words.

This exhibition presents the works of five artists: Yuni Hong Charpe, Mayunkiki, Mai Nagumo, Hideo ARAI and KIM Insook. Their works bring into sharp focus the differences that exist within a single language, as well as the practice of different languages, within a society that apparently speaks one and the same language. The idea behind this exhibition is to give each visitor the opportunity to embrace their own My Words, and those of others, whether through a work that portrays the difficulty of pronouncing words that don’t belong to one’s first language; or one that speaks of what it’s like when a person hasn’t had the opportunity to learn their heritage language; or one that involves gazing into the eyes of people on the other side of a language barrier; or through the experience of listening closely so as not to miss anything when another is speaking quietly.

Artists and exhibited works

ユニ・ホン・シャープ|Yuni Hong Charpe
The exhibition features a video work by Yuni Hong Charpe in which the artist’s pronunciation of the French sentence “Je crée une œuvre” (which means “I create an artwork”) is corrected by their daughter, who speaks French as her first language. It’s hard to accurately distinguish and pronounce sounds that don’t exist in the language you grew up speaking, and many people may have struggled with the accent of a foreign language or of the standard form of their own language. In the end, the artist learns to say “Je crée une œuvre” with the “correct” pronunciation. But even without the “correct” pronunciation, these are still words that the artist uses as My Words.

Yuni Hong Charpe was born in Tokyo Prefecture and moved to France in 2005, graduating from the École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts de Paris-Cergy in 2015. They currently split their time between France and Japan. Starting from archives and personal memories, the artist explores new narratives around the instability and multiplicity of constructed identities and the durability of memories, and seeks to give them concrete form through the body, language, the voice and/or choreography

  • A girl of about 10 years old is sitting on a bench in a white room, facing us. There is a mirror at the far left of the room, in which an adult woman is reflected. The girl and the woman seem to be having a conversation. The subtitle says: 'I create an artwork'.

    Yuni Hong Charpe, Répète (Repeat), 2019

  • Two figures are facing each other, eating cookies at a café table. The cookies are plain dough, flat and have an elongated pentagonal shape, like a house or a pencil.

    Yuni Hong Charpe, Still on my tongues, 2022

Mayunkiki, who belongs to the Ainu people indigenous to northern Japan, confronts the denial of the Ainu’s very existence, and the assertion of stereotypes and ideals. Aware that she is sometimes taken to be a representative of an entire people or expected to embody some typically Ainu quality, she weaves words as an individual, respectfully presenting the things, people and words that have formed her. The artist’s work in this exhibition consists of two filmed conversations: one in which she and photographer Kim Sajik talk about the process of relearning a language that might have been one’s mother tongue, and one in which she and art translator Kanoko Tamura discuss what it means to decide for oneself what language one speaks. Within this safe space are presented the various elements that have made Mayunkiki who she is.

Mayunkiki was born in Hokkaido. From a personal perspective, she searches for what it means to be Ainu today, and gives this expression through filmed works, installations, performances, etc. She is a member of the musical groups Marewrew and Apetunpe, which sing traditional Ainu songs, and since 2021 has also pursued a solo career. She has performed and exhibited her work at many art

  • Installation view in a gallery in the form of several connected, white-walled rooms. A man and a woman are talking to each other in a projection on the wall at the back and right of the screen. There are several display cases in the gallery.

    Mayunkiki, Siknure – Let me live, 2022, Installation view at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham Photographer Stuart Whipps, courtesy of Ikon Gallery

  • Profile of a woman wearing make-up, looking to the right. Her hair appears to be bunched up and her ears with multiple pierced holes are visible. She is looking into a small mirror in a powder case and drawing lines on her lips with a dark blue liner.

    Mayunkiki Photo by Hiroshi Ikeda

南雲麻衣|Mai Nagumo
Having lost her hearing at the age of three and a half, Mai Nagumo underwent cochlear implant surgery when she was seven and grew up with spoken Japanese as her mother tongue. As a university student she encountered sign language, and she now identifies as a Deaf person whose first language is Japanese Sign Language. “When you can communicate in multiple languages,” says Nagumo, “I feel you’re always being asked which one you really belong to.” To not view spoken and visual language in binary terms but rather oscillate between them, always making a choice as to which to use, is in its own small way an act of resistance against monolingualism. In this exhibition, we present her video installation Bogo no soto de tabi o suru (A journey leaving my mother tongue; shot and edited by Mika Imai), which depicts her language acquisition and the way she relates to words.

Mai Nagumo is a dancer and performer born in Kanagawa Prefecture. Having studied modern dance from a young age, she is now active across the performing arts in general, including performances and plays that involve sign language. Her credits include Company Derashinera’s Spectator (2013) and Aya Momose’s Social Dance (2019). Nagumo collaborates with artists across various fields, creating works around the theme of “oscillation” between multiple languages, both spoken and visual, mediated through the physical senses of the actual people involved. She also runs workshops in which participants share feelings that transcend language.

  • A park with strong contrasts of light and shadow. In the centre of the image, a swing chain reflects light like a sun catcher. On the far side of the light, there is a woman in her twenties holding the swing chain and smiling.

    Photo: Harumichi Saito

  • A woman in a T-shirt is standing outdoors, on what looks like a footbridge or an outside staircase landing. She has her weight heavily tilted to her back and looks as if she is about to make a major change in her posture and begin to move.

    Photo: k.kawamura

新井英夫|Hideo ARAI
Hideo ARAI has been highly praised for his physical expression workshops in which people who find it difficult expressing themselves in words or moving their body as they wish—such as the disabled or the elderly—listen out for their inner “body’s voice” in an environment of mutual respect. To communicate, one must not only be capable of expression but also able to listen. In this exhibition, visitors are shown the work involved in noticing slight movements in the body and listening to subtle sounds played in the venue, so as to draw their attention to the “body’s voice” that precedes words and thus help them hear other people’s My Words. ARAI himself faces a chronic disease that causes a gradual loss of movement in his muscles throughout his body, and his diary-like improvisatory dance videos provide an opportunity to think about the connection between body and language.

Hideo ARAI is a physical performer and dance artist born in Saitama Prefecture. He led the performing arts group Denkikyokubadan, which staged open-air plays, dance-based street performances and the like; he also trained in Noguchi Taiso, a physical method whereby one relaxes the body and follows nature, studying under its creator Michizo Noguchi. Moving to solo work, he has put on dance performances in Japan and abroad, while holding workshops in schools, public halls and welfare centers across Japan. Even after a definitive diagnosis of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) in the summer of 2022, he has continued to throw himself into his work, transcending the relationship between caring and being cared for.

  • Preschool children and their parents sit in a circle. In the midst of the circle, a boy wearing a cap and a man in red T-shirt and loose-fitting trousers are dancing face to face.

    Hideo ARAI, improvisational dance session with children and their family, ©Aqua Metropolis Osaka 2009

  • There is a blue sky with soft clouds in the upper half of the image, under which a river flows slowly. There is a man in a wheelchair dancing on what looks like a wooden deck on the riverbank, with his eyes closed and his hands raised wide.

    Hideo ARAI, ODORU KOKOROMI, Improvisation Dance with ALS, 2022- Location: Mogamigawa Museum Shooting: Kiyoko Itasaka

金仁淑|KIM Insook
KIM Insook’s contribution to this exhibition is the video installation Eye to Eye (won the 2023 Commission Project Special Prize at the Yebisu lnternational Festival for Art & Alternative Visions), which shows the children of Colégio Santana, a Brazilian school in Shiga Prefecture, on a life-size screen, together with a new work that captures her subsequent encounters with the children of Colégio Santana. Foreign residents who dont use the Japanese language form their own community, and rarely have the chance to interact with the Japanese-speaking local community. But even if they lack a common language, meeting gives them the chance to become friends and look each other in the eyes. This work, which the artist carefully built up through a series of exchanges, is just that: a platform for meeting them one by one.

KIM is an artist born in Osaka Prefecture. She lived in Seoul for 15 years after moving there to study, and now splits her time between Seoul and Tokyo. Her projects are based on communication around subjects such as the individual's everyday life, memory, history, tradition, community and family, and she creates installations consisting primarily of photography and video. At the root of her work lies the idea that “diversity is universal.

  • Five projected screens are shown in a dark gallery. At the far centre is a school classroom. On the four screens in the foreground, a boy and a girl of junior or senior high school age are shown, one on each screen, looking at the viewers.

    KIM Insook, Eye to Eye, 2023, Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2023 Commission Project  ©KIM Insook

  • There are three projected screens and a small monitor on the floor in a dark gallery. The monitors show a middle-aged woman talking; the three screens show children, ranging from pre-school to early primary school age, one on each screen, looking at the viewer.

    KIM Insook, Eye to Eye, 2023, Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2023 Commission Project  ©KIM Insook


Exhibition Period

Thursday, April 18 – Sunday, July 7, 2024


Mondays (except 29 Apr, 6 May), 30 Apr, 7 May

Opening Hours

10 AM – 6 PM (Tickets available until 30 minutes before closing)


Adults – 1,400 Yen / University & College Students, Over 65 1,000 Yen / High-school & Junior High-school Students – 600 Yen / Elementary School Students & younger – free

* 20% discount for a group of over 20 people
* Ticket includes admission to the MOT Collection exhibition.
* Children younger than elementary school age need to be accompanied by a guardian.
* Persons with a Physical Disability Certificate, Intellectual Disability Certificate, Intellectual Disability Welfare Certificate, or Atomic Bomb Survivor Welfare Certificate as well as up to two attendants are admitted free of charge.
[Silver Day] Those over 65 years old receive free admission on the third Wednesday of every month by presenting proof of age at the ticket counter.
[Students Day supported by Bloomberg] Students can view the exhibition for free by presenting a valid ID at the museum's ticket counter on May 11 and 12.

ONLINE TICKETThe ticket is valid anytime during the exhibition period. / Admission is only once for each exhibition per person. / No cancellations or changes can be made after the purchase. / Ticket is also available at the museum's ticket counter.


Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Exhibition Gallery 1F

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Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo operated by Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture

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