IN CONVERSATION WITH Cynthia Fan-Ikebana Specialist


Q: Your ikebana flower arrangements talk to the newly launched PICHULIK Fall Winter 17 collection. Tell us about this collaboration and how it happened?
A: It started with the inspiration behind the PICHULIK new collection – the photograph of the Japanese woman and the story of the Ama pearl divers. We were then presented with the textiles, colours and textures that made up the raw materials that were to be used. This interaction with the creative process provided the strong and inspiring feeling behind the collection. I was drawn to the combinations of natural elements and wanted to reflect them within the containers for the arrangements – a glossy black bowl for the kelp and rough ceramics to mimic the earthy wooden tones. I then sourced flowers that complemented the palate of the collection – orange, red, burgundy. I also foraged for branches and dried elements to incorporate into the arrangements.      


Q: You’re a botanist and ikebana specialist.  How did you get to practice this sacred eastern art? How did you learn it and why does it resonate so deeply with you?
A: I found myself being drawn to images of flower arrangements that were extremely simple, with strong flowing lines. About a year ago, I started ikebana lessons with Bea Soboil from the Ohara Chapter in Cape Town. In our first lesson, we learnt that ikebana began with monks who collected broken branches in the forest after a storm. These branches were arranged in simplistic ways so that their beauty could be observed. The appreciation of individual branches resonates with me as it contrasts with traditionally western flower arrangements that emphasize abundance.


Q: The practice of ikebana is about balance, yet it incorporates elements of chance and importance. This duality seems key to eastern principles. Did this duality with your Chinese heritage growing up in South Africa influence you?
A:  I think the practice of minimalism and simplicity behind the art of ikebana is more prominent in Japanase culture than in Chinese culture, especially since my parents grew up during the cultural revolution in China. Their experiences influenced the way that I was brought up as they constantly reminded me to always be appreciative and never wasteful. This teaching is what speaks to me the most in ikebana – there is absolute appreciation and value placed in individual branches and flowers. Broken branches and damaged flowers are praised for their beauty.


Q: Explain to us the principles of ikebana and do the pursuit of these principles resonate in other aspects of your life?
A: The Ohara School teaches you that the basic foundation of an arrangement consists of three elements – the subject, the object and a filler. These three elements work together in guided ratios to produce arrangements that are complementary and harmonious. Practicing ikebana reminds me to never underestimate the beauty of a branch.


Q: We’re going to close our eyes now and ask you to illustrate the process of applying these principles by describing how you put an ikebana arrangement together.
A: When I create an arrangement, I like to start with one special element. This element can be a moving branch, a special flower or a beautiful ceramic container. The subject, or principle stem, should be approximately one and a half times the height and width of the container, placed in a position that allows for empty space. The object is then added at a third the height of the principle stem, with the head facing up towards the sun, tilted outwards at a angle of sixty degrees away from the subject. The empty space should be considered and remain uninterrupted. The filler element then accentuates the colours or lines present between the subject and object, at a height lower than that of the subject.