Susan Wraight
‘Sentinel’, Netsuke, 2016 AD
Boxwood, buffalo horn, amber, gold leaf
55 (height) x 30 (width) x 28 (diameter) mm
Melbourne, Australia


For centuries, traditional Japanese attire has included robes (kimono) and belts (obi). While kimono sleeves could be used for more discreet storage, small decorative containers, such as boxes (inro), baskets, or pouches, were designed to be displayed and hung from the obi, or belt, and held personal possessions, including currency, tobacco, and medicine. Netsuke, ornate miniature sculpture in compelling forms of animals, figures, or objects, functioned as attractive fasteners to anchor and secure inro from slipping off the obi. Created for a semi-utilitarian purpose, netsuke have long been considered beautiful, handcrafted art objects.
Susan Wraight, an English-born, Australian-based, contemporary artist and master carver, who trained in Japan and utilises traditional tools, has created netsuke for decades. With Sentinel, she infuses the ancient art form with contemporary narrative. Inspired by the natural world, Wraight depicts an alert frog sitting atop a lotus pod. Aptly titled Sentinel, the frog stands watch, guarding and protecting its natural habitat. Wraight expresses concern about the environment’s deteriorating conditions. She offers Sentinel as a warning that living creatures, as well as natural resources, are at risk of extinction. Wraight declared, ‘The small creature shown in this netsuke is vigilant not only for his own immediate future, but for that of mankind too.’


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