Three of Ito's prints. Ito came to the University from Kobe, Japan.

Over 6000 miles from home, Fuko Ito, a second-year graduate student from Kobe, Japan, has found a new family through her print work at the University.

Growing up in a dual-income household, Ito found herself in an English-speaking international daycare simply because it was close to her parents. This quickly led to confusion as Ito found that she could speak English better than her native Japanese.

“It must have been so weird for my parents,” Ito said. “I would be talking in my sleep or to my teachers and they had no idea what I was saying.”

Ito’s proficiency in English helped broaden her choices in life and she eventually found herself in Lawrence studying printmaking. Ito said that, initially, her work focused on feelings of confusion and not belonging. Now, however, Ito said that the Lawrence and University communities have become a second family.

“Lawrence has such a robust printmaking community and KU has great faculty that have made me feel really welcome,” Ito said. “Plus I really prefer the openness of the community.”

Ito said the Japanese printmaking community is interested in discussing technique and classic styles rather than the personal connection between the artist the art and the art and the community, which is something she said frustrated her.

“Printmaking is very democratic as a medium,” Ito said. “You can distribute your images; that’s the whole point behind its invention. There’s far more room to question and debate within the medium than in Japan.”

Ito’s art, for example, questions what might be beyond her own experiences. She pulls images from her romanticized and fanciful imaginings of tropical islands and far-off places.

“It’s almost pitiful to exaggerate what you can’t attain,” Ito said. “We always over emphasize different cultures and different places but that’s just because it’s something new."

She said being somewhat superficial brings more meaning to her work, as it shows the reality of not being able to live out one’s fantasies.

“It’s a pathetic, crushing feeling to be fantasizing and lost in my imagination to suddenly be pulled back to reality,” Ito said. “I also like to exotify geography just because of my experience describing Japan to Americans who’ve never been.”

Leigh Kaulbach, a fellow second-year graduate student in the printmaking program, said that Ito has an impressive, almost eerie, talent at giving human characteristics to anything, which serves to really hit that pitiful feeling.

“She can draw a sock and you can feel anything from inspiration to sorrow just depending on how she drew it,” Kaulbach said. “There’s quiet, but real, emotion in everything she makes.”

Kaulbach said that Ito is the first person that other students come to with questions or for advice.

“She has such a wealth of knowledge but also real intuition when it comes to printmaking,” Kaulbach said. “She’s so comfortable with the medium, it’s easy to see how she’s able to change her subject and textures so seamlessly.”

Ito expects to graduate in 2018 and after that, she hopes to remain in the United States and teach.

“I’ve discovered that you can create a family and community anywhere with the right mindset so I’m not worried about leaving Kansas or staying out of Japan,” Ito said. “I’m really excited to see what comes next.”

— Edited by Missy Minear

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