Many urban street artists prefer to work anonymously, which is part of why their work is so fascinating. (Check out this entertaining exchange between Robbo and Bansky on a wall in Camden.)
But the choice to remain unidentified isn’t a new concept. On the brink of the 19th century, an ukiyo-e artist in Japan emerged with over 140 works produced in a span of 10 months. Known as Toshusai Sharaku from Hacchobori, Edo, he created woodblock prints mostly of actors as kabuki or kyogen. The prints appeared between May 1794 to February 1795. Then suddenly, he disappeared and was soon out of the minds of the public.
Today, Sharaku’s works can be found in different institutions around the world such as The British Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Tokyo National Museum.
And in 1996, an exhibition entitled Sharaku Interpreted by Japan’s Contemporary Artists was mounted. As written by Masanobu Ito in the exhibition catalogue, it is “neither an overview of works by Sharaku, nor an assembly of famous examples of ukiyo-e. Rather, this exhibition is a report if the personal reinterpretation of Sharaku by today’s graphic designers and artists confronted with this artist two hundred years after his time.”
The exhibition also hopes to “provide an opportunity to illustrate the connection between ukiyo-e and the graphic design of Japan, the differences between the approaches used in graphic design and contemporary art, and the diversity of today’s artistic expression that cannot simply be grouped under the single heading of ‘contemporary art.’”
On tour since 2007, Sharaku Interpreted opened last Monday, July 9th. Presented by The Japan Foundation, Manila (JFM) in cooperation with Ayala Museum, the Embassy of Japan and MUJI, the program began with welcome remarks by the Ayala Museum’s Senior Director Mariles Gustilo, followed by messages from Director of the Japan Information and Culture Center/Embassy of Japan Kiyoshi Takeuchi and Shuji Takatori, Director of Japan Foundation.
The University of the Philippines Center for International Studies (UPCIS) Noh Theater Ensemble followed this up with a performance before the exhibit was unveiled.
There are three key components of Sharaku Interpreted: Reproductions of Sharaku, Sharaku in Graphic Art, and Homage to Sharaku, which include 28 reproductions of Sharaku bust portraits, 28 posters by graphic artists, and 23 paintings, sculptures, and ceramic and woodblock prints, all done by Japanese contemporary artists.
Two boxes are set up side-by-side within the exhibition space, where guests will find cards in envelopes and markers. “Everyone likes someone as you like someone,” a note reads. The objective here is to select an envelope, keep the card with the drawing, and draw your own favorite person on the blank one. Then place your drawing back in the envelope and place it in the second box. The drawings that come from the Philippines will then be shipped off to the exhibition’s next leg (Indonesia), where the exercise happens all over again.
Prior to our country, Sharaku Interpreted was in China. Here’s the drawing Coco ended up with:
And the one he’s sending off when the exhibition moves on:
A few more photos from opening night:
Sharaku Interpreted by Japan’s Contemporary Artists is at the Ayala Museum Ground Floor Gallery until September 16, 2012.
Many thanks to our friends at the Ayala Museum: Mariles Gustilo, Ditas Samson, Ken Esguerra, and Roland Cruz!