J apan is not as far as you might think. In the middle of Antwerp’s museum district, you can visit the land of the rising sun at the homely IBASHO gallery. With Japanese photography as their field of expertise, they let you explore the mystical culture of the Far East through the locals’ lenses.

‘A place where you feel at home’. That is as close as you can get to translating the poetic, Japanese term ‘ibasho’. In the eponymous gallery for Japanese photo art in Antwerp, this warm and fuzzy feeling overwhelms you upon entering. “We have installed our gallery on the ground floor of our house,” says co-founder Martijn van Pieterson. “It therefore always feels like we are inviting people into our home.” Five years ago, he and his wife, Annemarie Zethof, left their stressful lives in London to set up a cultural oasis on the other side of the channel. “We have always been avid art enthusiasts and collectors. Throughout the years, we got more interested in photography and Japanese art. When opening our own gallery, we decided to look towards the east and become a gateway for Japanese photography in the west.”

Although Japanese photo art might sound like a small niche, it actually beholds a sizeable and versatile world. Since most of today’s camera brands are Japanese, it is not a surprise that the medium is wildly popular in the country. “Nonetheless, the local market for art on the wall is small,” says Zethof, “limiting most artists to sell their work in book form instead.” Although the focus of IBASHO is the trade of Japanese photo prints, the gallery also features a bookstore in which you can peruse the work of many a photographer. “As experts in our specific field, we sell our prints far beyond the Belgian borders. Besides trading at our gallery and website, we also attend plenty of fairs in both Europe and the United States.”

Until 19 May, IBASHO colours black and white with the BLACKOUT exhibition of Hitoshi Fugo. This Japanese artist travelled the five continents with his camera, resulting in pictures with both Asian and western influences. “Although his mysterious, abstract style feels very Japanese, it is never clear where the pictures are taken,” Van Pieterson explains. “The exhibition showcases work from different decades and countries, yet it feels like a whole. That keeps intriguing me.”


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