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“Trying to interpret the visuals around me into something that is ‘mine’, and thereby questioning the norms and values which I feel around me, in particular those pertaining to the role of women and minorities in Japanese society.”

A Dutch Foundation and Eastern Transition

Born in The Netherlands, Tanja Houwerzijl was raised in a family deeply immersed in academia, with her father practicing medicine and her mother serving as a judge. Naturally, the intellectual environment of the Houwerzijl household fostered high expectations for Tanja and her siblings, all of whom pursued careers in academia. Within this family, women were seen not merely as contributors, but as independent thinkers destined for impactful careers. Adhering to this blueprint, the artist pursued an academic path, achieving a European Studies degree from Amsterdam University and later, a Law degree. Concurrently, she navigated the challenges of motherhood, raising two children, and supporting her husband in his overseas endeavors.

However, 2004 marked a significant shift in Houwerzijl’s trajectory. When her husband secured a position in Tokyo, she chose to accompany him, momentarily shelving her professional aspirations. Immersing herself in a new cultural milieu, she grappled with Japan’s contrasting perspectives, particularly its nuanced understanding and often limited respect for women. This provided a backdrop against which she would soon redefine her path.

Tanja Houwerzijl: Artistic Rebirth Amidst Japanese Contrasts

The visual tapestry of Japan presented Tanja with a paradoxical blend of calm beauty juxtaposed against stark decay. This duality, combined with a hiatus from her prior professional commitments, led her to seek solace in art. She began to harness her experiences, channeling them into artwork that aimed to challenge established societal norms, especially concerning the roles of women and minorities in Japanese society.

Although Houwerzijl’s upbringing emphasized intellectual pursuits, a dormant passion for the visual and tangible always lingered within her. In Japan, this latent enthusiasm found its voice. Beginning with photography, Tanja acquainted herself with her first camera, meticulously honing her craft. It wasn’t long before her work began to strike a chord with a wider audience. She ventured into various photography avenues, from portraits to photojournalism, continually pushing the boundaries of her artistic expressions. A fateful visit to a Tokyo museum during the early waves of the Covid pandemic unveiled another layer of her artistic journey – collage-making, to which she was instantly drawn.

Spontaneity and the Artist’s Studio

Tanja Houwerzijl’s artistry thrives on spontaneity. She is instinctively drawn to visuals that resonate with her, transforming them with alacrity into a myriad of visual compilations. Whether it’s double-exposed photographs, singular compelling images, or intricate collages crafted from diverse materials, Houwerzijl’s work is characterized by speed, intuition, and striking visuals. Particularly with her collages, she embraces a raw immediacy. Once elements are committed to adhesive, there’s no revisiting the decision. This sense of finality, she finds, imbues her work with both challenge and allure.

The epicenter of her creative endeavors is a basement studio within her home. This sanctuary, shielded from external disturbances, is replete with boxes brimming with inspirational materials. Within this space, whether enveloped in tranquility or accompanied by ambient music, Houwerzijl allows her thoughts and creativity to cascade unrestrained. Influences on her artistic journey include the likes of Sarah Moon, admired for her discerning aesthetic, and Saul Leiter, whose minimalistic approach deeply resonates with her. Another poignant inspiration is Toshiko Okanoue, an aged Japanese artist whose collages captured Houwerzijl’s admiration during a Tokyo visit. Additionally, the layered narratives present in Japanese vintage nude magazines from the 1950s and 60s hold a particular intrigue for the artist.

Tanja Houwerzijl: A Vision of Art in Public Spaces

Digital photography and analog collages are the mediums of choice for Tanja. Though she once dabbled in analog photography, its deliberate pace lacked the allure the other forms held for her. The immediate nature of digital captures combined with the tactile essence of analog collages satiate her artistic inclinations in diverse yet complementary ways.

In recent endeavors, Houwerzijl’s creations have ventured beyond traditional displays. Her art now finds itself printed on t-shirts and gracing the walls of communal venues. Such ventures are especially fulfilling for her, weaving her art seamlessly into the fabric of daily life. Projecting into the future, she harbors an aspiration to invigorate public spaces, with Japan holding a special place in this vision. Imagining her works in significant locales, like courthouses or hospitals, Tanja dreams of her artistic legacy echoing the intellectual pursuits that defined her family’s narrative.

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