Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Kawaii exhibition

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this exhibition on ‘kawaii’ the Japanese culture of cute, so was pleased to find it was more a critique of cute rather than a celebration of it, and tended to focus on the subversive side. The nail art by Mina Okuhata (above) exemplifies that approach in which small, meticulously crafted objects become works of art with a subversive message. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the Japanese approach to kawaii but it seems to represent things that are small, sweet, lovely and endearing. For many Japanese girls it is a way of expressing themselves through fashion and possessions. However, as it tends to be applied to female and childish objects it is also a dismissive term and in the sense that it represents prepubescence, knowing sexuality and male fantasy an instrument of repression.

Minako Nishiyama’s installation of posters highlights the darker side of kawaii. Her posters of cute fantasy girls, with an associated telephone number, recall the telephone ‘dating’ clubs of the 1980s that were thought to encourage schoolgirl prostitution. When Minako originally pasted these posters in the streets of Japan the telephone number was linked to pink telephone booth in an associated gallery so that the men phoning in became part of the installation.

Chika Ohgi’s ‘Transient petals’ considers a more traditional side of kawaii that celebrates the small, weak and transient. Her beautiful petals made of kozo paper are based on cherry blossom and its short fleeting existence before the petals are blown away on the wind.

Aya Kametani notes that many small Japanese objects, such as bonsai trees, suggest that there is a wider world hidden within them. She has used this fantasy idea to produce worlds embedded on the backs of rams where you can see tiny people and even the microclimate they shelter beneath.

These few examples show that Kawaii contains a host of complementing yet often contradictory ideas. The exhibition shows the work of 16 artists and runs until 11 December at the James Hockey Gallery, Farnham, and will move to the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum in 2016. It is well worth a visit.

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