Feminism Pops at Japan Society

Japan Society’s spring exhibition, Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints is in its final month on view, and while The New York Times and The Huffington Post have lauded its eye-popping array of Edo-era woodblock prints by the masters (Hokusai and Hiroshige to Kuniyoshi and Kunisada), it’s the contemporary works with a feminist twist on a male-dominated art form that are most enticing. From AIKO‘s kaleidoscopic mural that washes the entrance in bold swathes of rainbow colors to Masami Teraoka‘s incisive, ukiyo-e inspired watercolors, the women depicted in these Edo Pop works are not merely passive and pretty to look at, but bold and sensually empowered.

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Lady AIKO moved to New York in the 1990’s to study graffiti art, finding that the colors and lines reminded her of traditional Japanese works. Her original graffiti mural for Japan Society, “Sunrise,” is done in spray paint and acrylic and features a topless woman facing forward with a tattoo of two women adorned in flowers in a cheek-to-cheek embrace emblazoned across her entire back. A depiction of Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (also featured in the show) is in mid-air next to her as she sits serenely, staring off into the distance at Mt. Fuji. Most recently, AIKO’s work was featured in the Museum of Sex’s F*CK ART exhibition, and on the famous Houston/Bowery mural wall.

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Masami Teraoka moved to Los Angeles in 1961 to study art, but it wasn’t until she witnessed the effects of globalization that she felt the need to “raise a warning flag on global commercialization and the American business model” in her work. Teraoka then started to take traditional forms and techniques drawn from woodblock printing to depict “events and happenings in our contemporary society without disrespecting and completely destroying past traditions.” A particularly startling watercolor from her AIDS Series, “Geisha in Bath” from 1988, focuses in on a geisha tearing open a condom with her teeth in a soaking tub, while her color woodcut “31 Flavors Invading Japan” from 1980-82 depicts a woman in traditional Japanese dress devouring ice cream, hair flying asunder with her tongue out in sugary reverie.

Edo Pop is a show rife with stimulating images of women from the Edo period to today, but those that move beyond just beauty on display are what makes this exhibition more than a survey show. Check it out now through June 9th.