Naoko Mabon

Naoko is a curator of contemporary art. Born in Fukuoka, she currently lives in Oban. Since initiating her own curatorial practice WAGON in 2014, Naoko has realised many forms of collaborative art projects in locations including Orkney Islands, Yamaguchi, Taipei and Sao Paulo. Driven by her lived experience as an ethnic minority immigrant in the UK, she aims to weave relationships among differences through being affective, responsive and responsible for the historically underrepresented voices and pressing issues that are specific to a focused context, locality or community.

In 2022, Naoko became a trained Climate Fresk facilitator. Since 2021, she has been leading Take One Action's Film Club in Oban with Oban Phoenix Cinema, Oban Youth Cafe, and an environmental social scientist Dr Leslie Mabon, offering a series of environmental justice film screenings and discussions, primarily for local youths. Naoko conducted the On Tidal Zones residency hosted by Skye’s ATLAS Arts and CLIMAVORE in 2021, and is the co-lead of EcoCreative Cluster project focusing on nature-derived materials and natural dyeing techniques.

Describe the nature around you at the moment.

I live in Oban. It’s a little bay town on the west coast of Scotland. Although known as a coastal town with a busy ferry terminal to the Hebrides, Oban is a woodland town too, built within ancient woods and hills, part of Scotland’s temperate rainforest. While looking untouched and idyllic at first glance, nature in Oban is no exception - it is another active working landscape which has long been supporting the interdependent living of multiple species.

Where do you feel most at ease?

Lying on tatami straw mats. I have no suitable words to describe this sense of comfort, but feeling their cool, neat touch and their distinctive smell is very relaxing.

How can contemporary art strengthen our connection to nature?

I think that art has the ability to make something hidden into something visible and heard. Contemporary art can pose critical questions, invite collaborations crossing boundaries, and open discussions that run in more than one direction. It’s much more than just talking about “what is beautiful” or “who has genius”.

As the word “contemporary” suggests, to me, practicing contemporary art is synonymous with being responsive to the issues of our present time. The issues here, of course, includes the environmental crisis we collectively face today. Contemporary art is strengthening our connection to nature because the more-than-human world doesn’t always speak human languages and are not always visible from human eyes. And visibility leads to raising awareness, nurturing trust and confidence, stimulating more discussions and empowering actions and subsequent changes.

Name a show, talk or podcast that blew your mind.

On Sonorous Seas by Mhairi Killin in collaboration with Fergus Hall, Tom deMajo, Miek Zwamborn and Susie Leiper. Beginning with a story of a stranded whale at the north end of the Isle of Iona, where Mhairi lives, this project explores the complexity that the seas of the Hebrides hold through multiple voices: militarisation of seas; the impact of anthropogenic sound pollution; and continuous interconnectedness of Hebridean islanders with whales. They published a 6-episode podcast on their website, which is highly recommended!

Keg de Souza: Shipping Roots at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Drawing from her own lived experiences, Keg utilises RBGE’s collections to tell tales of eucalyptus, prickly pear and “alien” seeds, tracing legacies through the British Empire - specifically linking Australia, India and the UK. The resulting exhibition at Inverleith House, was sensory, inclusive and critical all at the same time. A publication made with paper containing eucalyptus from Portugal is available at RBGE.

Also, I am still driven by the speech of Vijay Prashad in the climate justice event as part of COP26 Coalition's People's Summit back in 2021 (the whole climate justice event was inspiring too though). As a grandchild of colonisers myself, I really needed to hear these words.

Is there anything you're curious about right now?

I'm currently co-curating an exciting new birds-derived art project with Giulia Gregnanin, the director and curator at Timespan in Helmsdale. It is driven by the devastation of the recent outbreak and the indeterminate impact of the bird flu, and will explore the effects of extractivism on coastal communities in the Scottish Highlands, with birds. So, I'm curious about birds right now in any aspect really - their ecology, movements, behaviours, historical representations and so on in relation to human activities.

What is something interesting you’ve learned about nature-derived materials or natural dyeing techniques?

I learned that they are not new at all and are practiced everywhere in the world. Hence having this common ground, we can start a conversation with anybody in the world. Since 2021, I’ve been co-leading the project focusing on natural dye with textile artist Deborah Gray at The Rockfield Centre in Oban. While Deborah leads the dye garden development with local volunteers, I lead a network-weaving strand. We met virtually with practitioners from various localities in the world who also use nature-based materials and natural dyeing techniques.

Across two seasons, we met eleven people from Oban to São Paulo in Brazil, Yubari in Japan, Rangpur in Bangladesh, Arba Minch in Ethiopia among other locations who shared their heritage of natural colour production and how these processes are developing today to inform more environmentally and socially conscious creative practices. You can watch the recording of each conversation on The Rockfield Centre’s YouTube channel, and get updated by following #EcoCreativeCluster on Instagram.

What inspires you every day?

The fact that I am here in Oban making every day as a community member, which is far away from my hometown Fukuoka. Standing by the coast of Oban reminds me of this fact more.

Do you think nature can teach us everything? (question from #TheNatureKind interview with asked by Shinya Imahashi)

Yes, I guess they can! The key to the learning process is careful listening, I think.

What question would you like to ask the next person on #TNK?

What challenge do you face in your locality being part of nature?

And could you suggest someone else or other organisations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind

Màiri NicGillìosa is a Gaelic visual artist, educator and grower based on the Isle of Lewis. Màiri is interested in the overlapping layers through time of peoples, language, material cultures, relationships with the environment and how these connect and relate to one another. Màiri’s website is:

You can find out more about Naoko and her work here.

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