Ikebana: A Return to Minimalism

©MTHerzog
©MTHerzog
©MTHerzog


A few months ago I lashed out at the concept of flower photography and why it should be banned. My opinion on the matter hasn’t budged, but before you think that I had a change of heart, let me clarify that the photographs included are to illustrate the art of Ikebana, and not to portray the flowers as such.

The year was 1986, and after a disastrous first semester of university in the USA, I was sent home by my foster parents, shattering my dreams of studying journalism at the University of Missouri, to which I had already been accepted, but deferred for a year. The trauma remains with me till this day, but that is a story for another time. In short, I was forced to take a year off until I could re-apply to a local university in the Philippines. During that year I attended computer courses, entrepreneurship workshops and a host of art classes, including flower arrangement. That is where I fell in love with Ikebana.

Photographers around the world will agree with me when I say that minimalism is one of the most difficult genres to perfect. Removing all the extra elements and leaving only the bare essentials in a wholistic and artistic manner is easier said than done, what more if you have only a limited number of elements to begin with. Ikebana is not about removing elements, but about enhancing space and dimension with as little extraneous elements as possible. Unlike the more popular arrangements that espouse “the more, the the merrier”, this philosophical and disciplined form of flower arrangement must conform and remain within a triumvirate of heaven, man, and earth. No more, no less.

Life somehow got in the way and I neglected my ikebana for the last three decades. Until now. There are a lot of aspects of my life that are emerging or re-emerging as a result of a long and painful journey of self-discovery through psychotherapy. One of the angles I have been working on is getting in touch with all the suppressed dreams and buried goals that were cast aside for the sake of others. Duty is a jealous mistress who does not allow much interference, and so it came to pass that the silence and mindfulness demanded by ikebana was pushed further and further back.

Flowers are expensive, even more so during the colder months. When stretching the budget, food takes priority after all the other obligations, and plants are generally a more sustainable option than cut flowers. But I have found a loophole in this constraint, and realised that ikebana was the perfect way to still have flowers in the house. All I have to do is choose two… and then find branches in the forest or field near the house.

The return to this art form is a manifestation of my present, a response to my past, and preparation for the future. Unburdening and shedding the unnecessary extras in life are the guiding principles at the moment, as well as a gentle form of anger management.

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