An interview with Shibari Artist Leh YSL ahead of her final show in Melbourne this weekend

An interview with Shibari Artist Leh YSL ahead of her final show in Melbourne this weekend

In town for Melbourne Music Week, she'll be performing at Loop Bar this Saturday.

Leh YSL is a Japan-based Shibari artist who's been in the country for the past week showcasing her artform at Melbourne Music Week. She has taught in workshops and held exhibitions all around the world, along with being featured in publications like VICE Germany and featured on the TV show Girls. Ahead of her final performance at GROT III at Loop Bar this Saturday night (more info HERE), we hit her up to find out a little more about the artform and her ties to the fashion world.

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First up, can you tell us a little about Shibari, and what got you into it?

Shibari is also known as Kinbaku. Shibari means the tie which is a more modern PC term. Originally its know as Kinbaku which translates roughly as forcefully bound. As the name suggests it's not necessarily something very pleasant. In fact it actually evolved from Hojojitsu which are torturous rope restraint techniques used by cops and guards. They used ropes in those days because up until the 19th century metal was very rare in Japan, handcuffs didn't exist. The ropes could also be tied into special patterns to mark the prisoner's crime.

Gradually this evolved into Kinbaku which holds negative pornographic/sexual connotations in Japan. Despite lots of people being into the stuff it is very tabooed and in an grey legal area. It's seen as shameful the Japanese government shamefully wants to clean it up in time for the Olympics. It's a side of Japanese culture the government wants to hide, despite the craft and technicality Kinbaku practitioners have put into refining this art.

Is it misogynist or just a sexual kink?

I have to disagree. Everyone’s BDSM is different and everyone’s rope-play objective―what they hope to get out of it―is different. Yes, stereotypically it’s older, kinky guys tying up women. Tying them in sexual positions or even getting off from humiliating or controlling the girls in those positions. For me, from a woman’s perspective that does nothing for me sexually. I want to empower the girls I tie. I want them to feel beautiful and sexy. I love seeing the reaction from the models when I show them the Kinbaku pictures I take of them. I think for most people as soon as the see the ropes they automatically related to something sexual without really seeing the stories being conveyed through my pictures. It was from a more artistic perspective that I started learning Kinbaku, but I do also practice it from a BDSM perspective privately. If the objective of tying is for a photoshoot, I'm focused on the creative process, poses, colors, compositions, being able to convey the story and emotions in a picture. I hope that people will be able to differentiate and understand this. I do often try to desexualize the sexual subject of Kinbaku have my pictures look innocent and romantic. I'm always trying to show that Kinbaku is more than a sexual kink. For example the model reminiscing on a lost love, and intimate moments she had in that relationship. In those pictures audience can be seduced into conjuring up their personal sexual experiences.

I got into Kinbaku from an artistic perspective, but I am really into the BDSM side of it too. I guess I have a predisposition to Kinbaku and BDSM. I remember in university I read about it in the medical textbooks and psychology text books. I love Nobuyoshi Araki and Helmut Newton photos. I love the look of Fetish fashion. I admired strong confident women and even stronger men.

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You live in Tokyo and have been taught by some highly regarded Shibari masters, as an art form how much time do you spend on your craft?

To be honest I really don't spend enough time on practicing. Looking at my teachers they've all been practicing for over 20 years. Arthritis in their fingers from tying everyday. I will try and take lessons and practice once a week. I will practice and push the boundaries a bit more whenever there's a willing or strong enough submissive.

You also work on a fashion label, how do you bring these two worlds together?

Kinbaku inspires me visually and the stories from the girls I tie up stay with me always. Really feeds into my creativity as a fashion designer and as an artist. I see it as all being connected, it brings out beauty and confidence in women and helps sent the mood. I think the easiest way for art or fashion to speak to people is that it must have some elements of Sex, Lust or Taboo. It's been like this through out the history of art, The Greeks, The Romans...when I'm making Kinbaku art, I can draw inspirations from fashion, history, drama, irony and give a feeling that Kinbaku bondage means more than a sexual kink.

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What kind of interest is there for Shibari outside of Japan?

A lot of people from the kink community travel to Japan to take Shibari lessons from the Japanese masters. The Japanese masters also travel abroad to teach. I think in the west there's more appreciation for the craft. A lot of creatives from the west see it as an art.

Does music influence your work at all, if so how?

Yes I often use music to influence visuals. For my shows I tried to find music that will suit the theme of my show. I often start of slow and sensual and then move into something a little raw and aggressive. I love Kavinsky Vibes, I think it's a really good representation of BDSM.
I love using traditional Asian instruments, for exotic oriental vibes. At the end of the bondage session I like to play some Wang Kar Wai movie soundtracks because it shows a yearning for romance.

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How’s your Melbourne Music Week experience been so far, and how do you find Australians take to your shows?

I always have a great time when I travel overseas to perform. Melbourne has definitely been the best audience. People here are really open minded creative and funny. I've seen wows, smiles and shocks in the crowd! Lots of girls bravely coming signing up for the Shibari experience!

You have your final show in Melbourne this week, what can people expect to see?

I've kept my shows more artistic. Perhaps I'll go a little more sadistic. I would def like to torture some big Aussie boys. See how strong they are.

What’s the plan for 2018?

I would like to release more Kinbaku graphic apparel, and exhibit my secret stash of Kinbaku photos.

Follow Leh YSL: INSTAGRAM / WEBSITE

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