National Museum of Women in the Arts
Mako Idemitsu
1940 - present
Photograph of Mako Idemitsu, courtesy of the artist
Place of Birth:
Work Type/Media:
Multimedia (electronic, digital, video, film), Installation Art
Artistic Role(s):
Filmmaker, Installation Artist, Video Artist
Feminist Art
Artist's Biography:
Mako Idemitsu is a pioneering artist in the field of experimental film and video. A forerunner of feminist art in Japan, Idemitsu’s video, film and installations explore female identity in the context of patriarchal and cultural norms. Her work comments on issues of female identity, women’s bodies, social oppressions, familial relationships and motherhood. Her narratives generate awareness of symbolic relationships and structures, particularly in the domestic realm.

Idemitsu was born into a traditional Japanese home, where women were expected to conform to the roles of housewife and mother. Idemitsu studied at Waseda University in Tokyo and Columbia University in New York. While living in New York, Idemitsu met the painter, Sam Francis. The couple married and moved to Santa Monica, California. They had two children. In California, a pivotal moment for Idemitsu was her purchase of an 8-mm—and later a 16-mm—camera; she began experimenting with film and answered her longing to create.

Idemitsu participated with activists in the feminist movement, and in 1972 she documented Womanhouse, a collaborative installation organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro. She returned to Japan a year later, in 1973, and continued to make videos and films that explored gender roles.

One of Idemitsu’s signature techniques, called “Mako style,” is the prominent use of a television set or small monitor within the larger screen. She uses the smaller monitor as a device for showing a character’s inner world, (the character’s state of mind or unconscious mind). In addition, Idemitsu often includes projections and images of household objects in her videos. Two of her well-known videos, Kiyoko’s Situation (1989) and Kae, Act Like a Girl (1996) investigate the lives of female artists trying to fulfill traditional roles in the home. In the latter project, the artist eventually divorces her husband in order to start anew.

Idemitsu’s work is owned by museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Ottawa National Gallery in Canada, and the National Museum of Art in Osaka, Japan. Her work has been included in many exhibitions throughout Japan and in numerous international video and film festivals.

Place(s) of Residence:
Place(s) of Activity:
Santa Monica
Where Trained/Schools:
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA (1963-1964) Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan (1958-1962)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Sam Francis
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Prix Procirep Section Fiction Festival International de Videos et Films, Centre Audivisuel Simone de Beauvoir, Paris, France (1992) Mention Special du Jury categorie "Experimental," La mondiale de film et videos, Quebec, Canada (1991) Special Prize, The 3rd Tokyo Video Festival, Tokyo, Japan (1980)
Earliest exhibition:
Nirenoki Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (1974)
NMWA exhibition(s):
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
The First Generation: Women and Video, 1970-75