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Carlos Runcie Tanaka 

(Peru, b. 1958)


Carlos Runcie Tanaka is of Japanese, English, and Peruvian descent. His maternal grandfather, Guillermo Shinichi Tanaka, emigrated from Japan in the 1920s, but died young, never meeting his grandson. Tanaka’s grandmother, however, sought to preserve her late husband’s heritage by instilling in her family a reverence for Japanese culture. 


Tanaka studied Japanese as a child, and during his youth began to explore ceramics as an art form, inspired by the work of British artist Bernard Leach and the Japanese artist Shoji Hamada. Between 1979 and 1980, Tanaka studied in Japan, in the villages of Ogaya and Mashiko—both renowned for their traditional Japanese utilitarian pottery—as a deshi (ceramist apprentice) under the artists Tsukima Masahiko and Tatsuzo Shimaoka. Upon returning to Peru, he acquired a new appreciation for his native country’s deserts, coasts, and mountains, and began to incorporate their evocative qualities into his work. In the early 1980s, he traveled to the southern Andes to learn from the potters of the town of Izcuchaca, and in 1982 studied advanced ceramics in Italy through a grant from the Organization of American States and the Italian Government. In 1989, Tanaka exhibited his work for the first time at the Art Museum of the Americas. 


Tanaka’s innovative sculpture integrates traditional pottery methods with geological elements and an interethnic universal symbolism. It responds to—but does not limit itself to—traditional Peruvian, Japanese, and European aesthetics. In addition to his ceramic work, Tanaka has also developed a series of installations incorporating paper, video, and glass.    


In 1994, Tanaka began a series of installations based on concepts of memory, journey, and displacement. Using crabs constructed from origami, ceramic, and glass as metaphors for the Japanese immigrant experience, Tanaka linked his sculptural work to the legacy of the Japanese grandfather he never knew. The idea of using the crab as a migratory symbol came to him after seeing, at the Cerro Azul beach in Peru, a monument to Japanese immigrants that was surrounded by dead crabs.  


In the early 2000s, after experiencing a heart issue, he went on to produce a major paper installation entitled Into White/Hacia el Blanco, and continues to be prolific in his pottery work as well.

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