“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” - Laozi / Lao Tzu 老子
Every morning the artist Hiromi Tango wakes early and spends that precious time as the sun is rising, in meditation. It is a practice she began documenting with intention during covid and, every day, her ‘dawn prayer’ is posted on her website - words to reach out into the hearts of her community – ‘Gently …’ always her signature greeting.
By Donna Rishton-Potter
Tango is a petite woman of 47 years. She greets me, makeup free; her dark hair, woven with the odd strand of silver, is pulled into a simple ponytail – all intentional, she tells me later. She comes as she is. Only her Fingernails, painted in individual rainbow colours, hint at the kaleidoscope of creativity that pours from her. They are a remnant of her recent work - the delightful, and thought-provoking sculpture installation “YU KA 夢花 (Dream Flower)” - for the Festival of Brisbane. A vibrant interactive display of rainbow-coloured peonies, stemming from a circular rainbow bed. Representing ‘HOPE’, Tango’s intention was to “provide some sense of safe space - comfort, mindfulness, relaxation, joy, curiosity, and wonder … It is my sincere dream” she says, “that our society become safe, harmonious, peaceful, kind, and respectful place… where we are all able to express our authentic self without fear of judgment, to feel accepted, and that we belong.”
“I am an idealist” she laughs. Be that as it may, Tango’s work resonates and has earnt her both national and international acclaim. An established, multi-awarded, multidisciplinary artist, she may reside here in the Northern Rivers, but her striking pieces, adorn the walls and spaces of cities, buildings, and galleries from Belgium, The Unites States and Dubai to South Korea, Singapore and Japan.
Japanese born, Tango has lived in Australia since 1998 when, at the age of 22, she followed her heart – in the form of renowned artist Craig Walsh – back to his home country. These days, Craig, Hiromi and their two children, reside on Bundjalung country, on an idyllic stretch of the Tweed River, close to where Craig grew up. “We moved here 10 years ago because we wanted to raise our children in a regional area.” Says Tango. “It reminds me of where I grew up… regional living is about community, generosity, sustainability and resilience.”
This sense of community and ‘giving’ is woven deeply in Tango. Raised on Shikoku Island, Japan, within a very traditional community, she explains, “Culturally, where I come from, and particularly within my family, women were expected not to speak in the presence of men; instead, I watched my mother and grandmother and aunts grow food, cook, sew, and work together in a practice of communal living. Everything was shared and reused, our homes were open, people came and went. Helping each other, being present, is the essence of community.” Here in Australia, Tango’s heart is embedded in the region. Significantly involved in the effort of Lismore’s communal recovery, she feels deeply about helping others and her front door is always open. Her home - aptly named HIROMI HOTEL - is also her studio space and a place where she hosts open workshops and community engagement projects; everyone is welcome.
Despite her giving nature and idealism, Tango impresses on me that she is still learning that things don’t have to be perfect right now. Her daily mantra, taken from the Chinese philosopher – Laozi/ Lao Tzu 老子, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – inspires her to look to nature, to slow down, be mindful, and to find beauty, growth, and abundance in imperfection.
Upfront about her own reality of living with anxiety and depression, Tango has spent over two decades exploring the intersection between art and mental health. Using her observations of nature to fuel her curiosity, she has, over the years, collaborated with numerous scientists, health professionals and research institutions, exploring how both nature and art can contribute to a positive mental wellbeing.
With many of her works’ centring around the theme of the ‘Healing Garden’, one could say that nature is intrinsic to the artist’s way of being and expressing herself. “Our connection with nature is key to connecting with ourselves” she observes. “Through my garden I learn about life. There is love and compassion, nurturing, and resilience in the soil. Each plant, each petal is different. The beauty is in the imperfection.”
Wabi Sabi philosophy – ‘to see the beauty in imperfection, appreciate simplicity, and accept that change is inevitable’- is in fact, an ideal Tango lives by and it plays a role in all her work. As does sustainability – whereby nothing is wasted, and everything is upcycled in some way. Tango’s method of creating often involves the meticulous process of weaving and wrapping using donated items of clothing, fabric, Perspex, wool, and wire. Even an old bicycle is taken apart and its pieces reused. Her neighbour, an electrician, has given her a tangled mess of frayed electrical wires, “look at this, it’s so pretty” she says. Although, her practice is multifarious and, as well as sculpture, also spans painting, drawing, photography, installation, poetry and performance.
Tango’s current commission is the stunning sculpture centrepiece - GARDEN (Healing Together) - at Tweed Valley Hospital in Northern New South Wales. Sitting pride of place at the hospital’s entrance, this vibrant installation of ocean and nature tones feels the perfect choice by an artist whose ethos centres around nature, healing, and hope.
Raised to communicate with non-verbal language, one gets the sense that Hiromi Tango has become the walking embodiment of her message, and the artwork she creates are her voice. The words she speaks to us are loud and clear and simple – “Gently...”