SOAS University of London

SOAS Language Centre

Hagio Prize 14th Year Winner: Elena Bartolomeo


I have wanted to visit Japan for as long as I can remember, and finally this year I was able to spend two months in Tokyo thanks to the cooperation between Mrs Hagio, Reuters, and SOAS. 
I decided to apply by presenting a project based on the study of sumi-e - the traditional Japanese Ink painting. Many people outside Japan are not aware of the existence of such a beautiful art, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about it in order to share the knowledge I was lucky to receive.

The Japanese word sumi-e is made up of the words sumi (black ink) and e (picture). 
I came across a sumi-e painting by chance and suddenly felt attracted to it: its breathtaking simplicity, yet visual power makes it the purest representation of nature by means of linearity and simplicity.


Sumi-e, rather than the traditional Western arts, was born as a Zen Buddhism practice aimed at the relaxation of the painter: when painting, one has to forget any rational thoughts and get caught in a free, unstrained mood. In respect to my interest in this form of painting, I contacted Ilan Yanizki of Yoyogi Uehara studio, an amazing sumi-e painter and calligrapher based in Tokyo. He started the study of painting in Japan 30 years ago and during his impressive career he was awarded with several prizes other than appearing in magazines, newspapers and TV programmes.

I was extremely happy when he said that he would teach me sumi-e in his studio, and I attended three hour classes for three times a week during my stay in Japan. In order to master the art of Japanese ink painting, you need more that 10 years of constant practice - but anyone can learn how to paint ink pictures. 
In Sumi-e you don’t paint to achieve a result; the act of painting is a mean to relax and learn to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Main Table

The project I presented to the board consisted in making the principle of sumi-e available to as many people as possible, therefore I created a blog and a Youtube channel where I tried to explain in the easiest way possible how to paint sumi-e, from the perspective of a complete beginner. Part of the amazing things I have learnt during my trip can be found on my blog:

My trip to Japan was an exciting opportunity to learn about Japanese culture, and I feel extremely lucky and grateful to be able to develop my project as it truly was a life changing opportunity.