Mono-ha was an art movement based in Japan, active from around 1968 to 1975. The artists tended to present natural and industrial materials such as stone, soil, wood, paper, cotton, steel plates, and paraffin—”things” (mono)—on their own or in combination with one another. Contrary to the mainstream anti-art tendencies of Zenēi Bijutsu (avant-garde art), Mono-ha attempted to reconfigure art through the reduction of objects to their primary form. Unaltered, natural matter and objects were considered not as material, but in and of themselves significant and autonomous. Attempts were made to draw out a kind of artistic expression from matter by directly engaging in its being (ari-yō), perception, and relations.
In 1968, assisted by his friends, Nobuo Sekine constructed an earthwork titled Phase—Mother Earth for the first Suma Rikyu Park Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition in Kobe. Among his friends were future Mono-ha artists Susumu Koshimizu and Katsurō Yoshida, both students at Tama Art University (Tamabi) at the time. Prior to the exhibition, the three briefly shared a warehouse space in Yokohama at Sekine’s urging, while Tamabi was on lockdown during the student movement. Kishio Suga and Shingo Honda, attending Tamabi at the same time, were also present. The unveiling of Phase—Mother Earth proved to be a critical moment in the development of Mono-ha, initiating a period of intense activity for those involved in the movement.
Sekine met artist Lee Ufan, six years his senior, in Shinjuku several weeks following Kobe. Drawn to Lee’s interpretations of his work based on the theories of Heidegger and Kitarō Nishida of the Kyoto School, Sekine introduced Lee to his circle of friends, and arranged regular group meetings at “Top,” a cafe by Nishi-Shinjuku Station. Over the course of a year and a half, what were to become the basic tenets of Mono-ha formed through continuous dialogue. Constant aesthetic assertions informed by these debates became indispensable to the formation of Mono-ha. Discussions revolved around questions of how to transcend Western Modernism by ending representation, a sentiment endemic to postwar Japan, a re-examination of indigenous culture as a means to bring attention to the physicality of “things,” and the limits of creativity.
Artists noted for their participation in Mono-ha include Kōji Enokura, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Shingo Honda, Susumu Koshimizu, Lee Ufan, Katsuhiko Narita, Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Noboru Takayama, Katsurō Yoshida, and Jirō Takamatsu.
Historically, Mono-ha shared many commonalities with Supports/Surfaces in France, Arte Povera in Italy, and Minimalism in the United States.