November 5, 2021 to February 20, 2022

A Soul in Everything

Encounters with Ainu from the North of Japan

The exhibition “A Soul in Everything – Encounters with Ainu from the North of Japan” focuses on the Ainu groups and their path to recognition.The visit of a Japanese delegation to the RJM in autumn 2019, which documented “Ainu collections” in European museums, was the impetus for this exhibition. It was developed together with a large number of Ainu activists, scholars and artists in order to make the voices of Ainu audible.

Ainu groups are considered the indigenous inhabitants of northern Japan, who originally lived as hunter-gatherer communities mainly on the islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin. From the mid-19th century, they were colonised, resettled and exploited by Japan. It was only after the middle of the 20th century that they increasingly returned to their traditions. This was the beginning of a revitalisation movement that led to their recognition as an indigenous group in 2008 and their official recognition as a minority with their own rights in Japan in 2019.

The exhibition focuses on the current revival movement with a variety of voices from different Ainu activists. Visitors learn more about the history of the museum collection, get an insight into Ainu beliefs and an impression of the beauty of their material culture.

But the focus is also on contemporary artistic positions such as the touching works of artist and Ainu activist Mayunkiki. In her video works, she reflects on what it means to be “Ainu” and thus part of a social minority in Japan. She meticulously documents the confrontation with her tradition of tattooing women and the reactions of society as well as her own family.

Poignant portraits of the old as well as young generations of Ainu by Italian documentary photographer and director Laura Liverani provide a counterpoint to the historical portraits of Ainu in the RJM’s photographic collection. The photographic self-stagings sensitively convey an anchoring in the present and at the same time a strengthened awareness of their traditions.

In his video projections, French illustrator and video artist Boris Labbé intertwines the doublings,reflections and interweavings of the patterns of Ainu textiles and onomatopoeia of Ainu songs.

Ainu activist and scholar Kanako Uzawa, who lives in Norway, reinterprets traditional Ainu dances on a personal and artistic level. In her doctoral thesis, she deals intensively with the social position of the Ainu and thus stimulates a sensitisation in the perception of minorities. More informations about the artists.

The exhibition is the result of a cooperation with the National Ainu Museum, the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (CICS) of the Cologne University of Applied Sciences and the Japan Foundation Cologne.

Sponsored by the couple Dr. Alfred and Doris Jung, the Kölner Kulturstiftung der Kreissparkasse Köln and the Museumsgesellschaft RJM e.V.

Project Idea: Dr. Annabelle Springer

Curators: Walter Bruno Brix, Dr. Annabelle Springer

Conservators: Petra Czerwinske, Kristina Hopp, Stephanie Lüerßen

Design and Graphics: Marie-Helen Scheid

Free admission!

Here you can find our documentation.

Information on the corresponding Ainu film series of the Japanese Cultural Institute can be found here: