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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Life Stage and 'Aki Challenge'

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Aki Challenge flyer.Life Stage is a welfare workshop in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward for the intellectually handicapped that aims to allow its members to express themselves in ways they find possible. At present only 20% of the intellectually handicapped in Japan are engaged in any meaningful occupation. Life Stage is trying to raise that figure by supporting as many such people as possible in their quest to become independent.

The member who most embodies what the group is trying to do is an 18-year-old by the name of Aki. His gift is art, specifically painting and drawing. His art has attracted the attention of many. In publicizing his work, Life Stage upholds one of its fundamental principles which is to present it not as a work ‘by an intellectually handicapped person’, but as a work ‘by Aki’, i.e. a work that will be judged completely on its own merits.

Aki takes center stage in one of Life Stage’s events: one I attended on Sunday, called 'Aki Challenge’, a rock event that features on-the-spot painting by Aki himself during the performances.

At the Aki Challenge concert: Aki at back left (click for full size)

Aki Challenge concert.The concert was held between 3.30 and 8pm on Sunday afternoon in Shimokitazawa, a downtown Bohemian quarter of Setagaya ward full of cheap restaurants, second-hand stores, knick-knack shops, street clothes and record stores. The venue was the Kitazawa Town Hall, and tickets, although cheap at 999 yen, were by reservation only.

The concert began on time and as heavily muscled rock pounded the auditorium Aki could be seen behind the musicians in front of an easel giving gradual shape to one of his creations: this time a half-human, half-animal head that morphed considerably as it took ever more definite and detailed color and form. The rock was too much for my ears – which have had more than enough hammering over the years to give them too much more – and I left after about an hour.

Needless to say, the music was still ringing in my ears long after I got home, and Aki’s brush was still painting the inside of my head, long after I went to bed.

Check out the Life Stage website here.
Click on Aki’s promo video (for Windows Media Player) at the top right of the homepage, just below ‘Links’.

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