Hara Museum of Contemporary Art 
January 25 – April 12, 2020

In 1989’ Noriaki Kitazawa released his book 眼の神殿: 「美術」受容史ノート / Me no shinden: “bijutsu” juyōshi nōto. Noriaki’s analysis of how the concept and institution of “art” had been imported from the West and then ‘Japanised’ in the late nineteenth century certainly prompted widespread cultural revaluation. However, as aptly put by Ming Tiampo, ‘an act of cultural Mercantilism, Modernist discourse transformed a two-way cultural encounter – because that is what they were – into a European importation of the raw materials of culture, which were then transferred into acts of genius and then exportation of the genius back to the periphery. That could be imitated and admired but never generated’. From the late 1870s’ onward, Japanese art did develop in conversation with Western modernism but also greatly helped inform and shape it. However, by not being at what was represented by Western commentators as the centre, therefore on the periphery, Japanese artists were often wrongly perceived as derivative and somewhat less relevant to their Western counterparts. 

While European artists became known for their radical innovations and progressive ideas, Japan was the exotic other, Orientalism, Primitivism, “La Japonaise” and despite the regrettable period of Japanese colonialism and imperialism expansion of the late and 19th and early 20th century, whose impact further engendered a radical degree of transnational cultural exchange with Tokyo becoming one the centres of modernism, modernism itself was constructed as a poorly European narrative marked only by its fascination for its other. 

In 1985, Yasumasa Morimura presented a photo work at the group show, Smile with Radical Will, which was held at a Kyoto’s Galerie 16. Morimura has devoted himself to creating self-portraits in which he dresses up as protagonists from famous masterpieces, film actresses, and notable historical figures ever since. It was a photo of a large self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh, ear bandaged, but in which Morimura himself assumed the role of the artist by adding paint to his face. 

Morimura who proclaims himself the “Daughter of Art History,” re-examines the aforementioned global art histories, taking on as he does famous pictures like those of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Edouard Manet, portraits of Marcel Duchamp and Vaslav Nijinsky, literary ‘painting himself’ into the picture. Modelling himself as say, the princess of Hapsburg as painted by Diego Velazquez, or as Maja as painted by Francisco Goya. In his ‘self-portraits’, a Japanese artist contextualised within a western sense of beauty and value systems, critiques art history as a euro-centric discourse, tethered to issues around race, power structures, and economics, helping to further inform the construction of new transnational narratives.