Artist Miki Katagiri is a New York-based hat maker who tells a story through each hat she creates. At first glance, each hat seems to be a whimsical, wearable piece of art adorned with colorful felt shapes, cute animals, and even branches. But behind each hat is a different, sometimes dark, story that is meant to make us think.
Influenced by current events, environmental issues, and the plight of endangered species, Katagiri creates hats that make statements about the general degradation of the world around us.
“I watch The New York Times videos, and that gives me ideas and makes me think, ‘I can make something about that story,’” says Katagiri at her recent exhibition at Globus Chashitsu.
A tatami mat tea ceremony oasis near Union Square, Globus Chashitsu serves to introduce Japanese culture to New Yorkers and to create a dialogue between East and West. Katagiri’s themes are universal, and we can all relate to the ideas behind her creations.
Her hats were peppered throughout the two levels of Globus Chashitsu, some attached to the walls, some hanging from the ceilings by threads. Katagiri guided guests throughout the space, explaining the hats’ meanings.
In her hat Pigs are looking for the mushrooms, Katagiri depicts pigs digging for truffles. Instead of finding mushrooms, they find a mushroom cloud.
Another atomic-bomb themed hat is Flower bomb, in which the mushroom cloud is made of a bouquet of daisies.
“If the cloud is made of flowers, then no one died,” says Katagiri.
“The government of Afghanistan sprayed pesticides on poppy fields to end their opium problem,” Katagiri explains. “But instead, the pesticides killed cows and made children sick.” That’s the inspiration behind Katagiri’s White poppy seeds in Afghanistan.
Katagiri has several hats that speak to what humans have done and continue to do to our environment. In Botox cure the drought? Katagiri suggests that the toxin used to alleviate wrinkles on humans might help with the dry cracks on the planet’s surface caused by our overuse of water.
“We’ve used up all the Earth’s water, so it’s all dried up,” says Katagiri, who used a broken tea cup to represent the parched land. The syringes are a nice touch.
Our use of chemicals in livestock is the source of two other Katagiri creations, Cloned cows and humans and Dung beetle’s pyramid.
In Throw away space shuttle, Katagiri positions the doomed Space Shuttle Challenger crashing into the ocean with bird feathers and coral scattered nearby. Manmade triumphs can turn into tragedies, but in the midst of our grief, we sometimes overlook how those tragedies impact our environment.
Several of Katagiri’s hats speak to our treatment of animals and the plight of endangered species, addressing the shortage of bees in the US, a turkey who doesn’t want to be Thanksgiving dinner, and animal fur that was almost discarded because it wasn’t “high quality.”
The habitat of the dugong, a mammal that is related to the manatee, is being threatened by the US military’s relocation and expansion of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Henoko Bay in Okinawa. Katagiri is concerned about the damage the construction will do to the sea grasses, on which the dugong feed, as well as the coral in the area.
Katagiri’s cutest animal hat is also a little disturbing. A chick discovers that his friend Pete is now over easy.
With almost 15 years of experience designing and making specialty hats, Katagiri teaches two millinery classes at Parsons The New School for Design. Next month she is offering a three-day workshop Make Your Own Cocktail Hat for Fun! For more information, please visit Katagiri’s website.