2017/09/07 What's On
Three Japanese Artists That Challenge Stereotypes And Convention
by Jordan Mounteer
The impression that many foreigners have of Japan is that it is a very strict society that often limits or constrains creativity and imagination. But this is often a misconception, and one of the biggest paradoxes of Japan – as much as uniformity and ‘being a part of the group’ is an important cultural element, the country has also heralded some of the wildest and most imaginative artists in the world, who aren’t afraid to push the envelope in terms of what is appropriate or expected. We take a look at three premiere artists that have made us ask the question: what is art? Some of them use art as an expression of themselves or a way to cope, while others feel compelled to challenge the expectations of their society, both where sex, gender, and politics are involved.
Also known by her handle Rokudenashiko (meaning reprobate or good for nothing), the Tokyo urbanite quickly drew attention for some of her different multimedia projects that pointed a spotlight on the misogyny and patriarchy which is endemic to Japanese society. As both a sculptor and manga artist, she’s produced and self-published a number of books featuring the adorable character Manko-chan – a word that is used euphemistically for female genitalia. She garnered huge attention when she began creating dioramas using her own vulva as the mold, and the backlash was intense, prompting a number of lawsuits that brought up the ‘obscenity laws’ in Japan. It even provoked a police raid where a huge number of her projects were confiscated.
This only seemed to encourage her even more to take a stand against some of the hypocrisy she saw, especially in her own field. Some of the more provocative mangas by male artists often feature male and female characters in various stages of nudity, and there is even a penis festival that takes place every year, where phallic symbols and imagery abound. As part of her protest piece, she went so far as to actually create an entire kayak in the shape of her vulva using 3D printing technology!
Thankfully, in May 2016 the charges against her were dropped on the grounds that the kayak itself wasn’t “immediately identifiable” as female genitalia, but she still faced a stiff fine of $3500 and is often the subject of ridicule and abuse from the Japanese media – but that hasn’t stopped her from gaining a considerable following of supporters.
photo by https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Considered one of the most important artists to come out of Japan, she gained a lot of recognition during the 60’s when she borrowed from the avant-garde movements that were sweeping through the United States, and one of her first features included a live-action type of display that showcased naked actors with lots of polka dots. And those two themes have continued to embody her work even into the present: colorful polka dot themes and a brazen disregard for ‘fitting in’.
There was also a huge focus on minimalism and feminism in her works of art, and she credits her past experiences for some of her inspirations. This includes the fact that as a child she often experienced vivid hallucinations which often involved repetitive patterns in fabrics or flowers talking to her, and these experiences often became extremely engulfing. This led to something she refers to as “self-obliteration” and one of her more hands-on types of artworks includes a room that has the same name. Polka dots and psychedelic colors became a way for her to cope with her condition and to overcome some of the neuroses and fears she had acquired as a child, and in order to bring this idea to spectators she created a white room. Everything in the room was painted white, including the walls and floor, and even the different types of furniture. As spectators walk into the empty white room they are given a sheet of stickers with lots of polka dots in varying sizes and colors, and are encouraged to put them where they please. The end result after even a hundred spectators have ‘contributed’ to the room is staggering, and to see the actual time lapse is – like you would imagine Kusama’s condition to be – a bit overwhelming at first.
Although 88 years old, Kusama still enjoys producing artwork and routinely has shows opening around the world.
photo by http://www.yayoi-kusama.jp/
Fukahori actually gained most of his prestige not from any gallery showing, but from the Internet – sites that feature interesting articles or people like BoredPanda quickly clamored about the up and coming artist for his extremely life-like and realistic fish ‘paintings’. We say paintings, but there is a three-dimensional quality to his works of art that is both unique and inspiring. By using very thin layers of resin and then paint he literally builds up 3D portrayal of fish and koi from the ground up. The intense amount of focus and patience required is phenomenal in itself, but the finished products are truly unbelievable. A graduate from the Aichi Art University, his fish appear in wooden boxes and pails, in tin cups, and even in lacquer bowls and are frozen in flight – in his own words he borrowed his inspiration from early impressionist painters and artists like Claude Monet, especially in regards to the way they managed to depict the surface of water. There is definitely a flavor of impressionism, in that he attempts to recreate something as closely to reality as possible.
And while it’s easy to see his works as an appreciation of the natural world, many people have drawn parallels to a darker analogy. He belongs to one of the most densely populated first world countries, and the confinement of his fish in their frozen resin worlds also seems to speak to the confinement that many young Japanese millennials feel in 21st century Japan. Whatever the case, his attention to detail and to realism are testament to an otherworldly kind of focus and dedication to craft.
photo by http://goldfishing.info/
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