Yumiko Glover’s discusses her ongoing research about contemporary social issues in Japan not only through her prolific artistic output but also through frequent presentations for the Sociology of Japan and Women’s Studies course at University of Hawai’i Honolulu Community College. Upcoming exhibits include a survey of modern and contemporary Japanese erotic art at the Honolulu Museum of Art (November 20, 2014-March 15, 2015), where her work will be featured alongside established artists such as Masami Teraoka. Read below for the full interview…
As an artist, what is the biggest gap to bridge between modern sociology of Japan and Women’s Studies?
Modern Sociology of Japan and Women’s Studies are the two courses at the University of Hawaii Honolulu Community College to which I regularly give presentations as a guest speaker. The title of my presentation is “Japanese Social Issues through Art Work.” Although they are two different courses of study, I discuss the economic, historical, ideological and political aspects of certain phenomena that I incorporate into my artwork, so it fits well with both subjects.
For those unfamiliar, even the art of anime has ‘ecchi’ and ‘moe’. From your perspective, what is the psychology behind implementing erotica in Japan’s modern animation and figure drawings?
Implementing erotica in art work was common in Japan from way back in the Edo period (1615-1868) as it appeared in shunga. You can find strong influences of shunga in Japan’s modern animation and figure drawings. Shunga in the Edo period and today’s erotica in anime both fulfill viewers’ curiosities and sexual desires on some level. The difference I believe is that Edo people still had real relationships with human beings while they enjoyed viewing shunga. On the contrary, there are large numbers of people in present day Japan who are not only physically satisfied by erotic animation and games but are also content to maintain imaginary relationships with their characters in that virtual world.
Tokyo of the 1960s and 1970s saw a lot of happenings and performances taking place on the streets, but this rarely occurs now. What has changed about the way people use the streets?
The reasons for using the streets of Tokyo are different today. The people in the 60’s and 70’s, who used the streets to appeal, demonstrate or protest against their principles such as the art movement, politics, or war. They could form a large group with like-minded people without using the internet or text messages. On the other hand, people in today’s Tokyo use the streets to express their personal tastes quietly and individually. For example, you can see all kinds of people in cosplay, Lolita, Harajuku kawaii, in Harajuku/Omotesando area, but their purpose is mainly as a fashion statement and to attract attention. People’s reactions are corresponded or communicated through text messages and SNS.
I’d like to add my personal experience on the street in Tokyo since much of my current artwork is produced in response to a scene I witnessed on street near Harajuku Station in Tokyo in the summer of 2006. I approached a large crowd of middle-aged men who were sitting on the ground holding cameras with large telephoto lenses. The subjects of their interest were girls in their teens wearing French maid costumes, sitting on the sidewalk posing in ways that intentionally revealed their underwear. I learned that this was not a commercial or professional photo shoot, and that there were similar crowds formed regularly in locations throughout Tokyo. The shock and anger I felt at that moment only grew stronger as I studied the background of this social phenomenon. This experience later became the subject of my BFA thesis and is an ongoing painting series, which is entitled: “Moe” Elements of the Floating World.
Focusing back to your artwork, do you paint scenes or objects that act as an indirect satire on society or human behavior?
Through my choices of imagery and composition, I’m expressing my views and opinions on society and human behavior. In my paintings, high school aged girls dressed in French maid or school uniforms are depicted as monumental figures and the small animals represent men. While playing an exhibitionist role, girls appear to be self-absorbed, taking pictures of themselves, or looking in the mirror. Though they are not interacting with men, they are fully aware of their attention. To represent men, I included small animals such as rabbits and frogs which were used as satire in Japanese art since 1200. The animals in my work represent scopophilia, pleasure derived from the act of looking. Their interests are exclusively focused on girls’ private areas, and are not interested in the girls’ individuality, communication, nor even dating. Rather, they’re just superimposing the appearance of these girls onto their favorite characters in erotic games or animation. In my paintings, the agendas of men and women are irreconcilably at odds with one another.
How do you go about pushing the envelope with regards to the use of oil?
I think that oil paint is a medium that takes many years to master. Some artists spend their entire lifetime trying to perfect their use of oil paint. I’ve only been using oil for seven years and I feel that my skills need to develop much further. For now, I want to focus mainly on oil while simultaneously working with other media, including installation art.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Shinsei Kamattechan, the Movie, Harakiri (1962), Key of Life, Cutie and the Boxer, Macross, and Space Battleship Yamato.
What is the biggest different, culturally, between Hawaii and Japan, and does having this dual perspective on life give you an advantage pertaining to your ‘artist eye’?
Hawaii, specifically Honolulu, is a diversified city with a unique mixture of cultures. Japan is not as diversified, and the culture is totally different. The disadvantage is that I can’t witness what’s happening on a daily basis in Japanese society. However, I feel that being able to observe what’s happening there objectively is a greater advantage. If I always lived in Japan, I would perceive the cultural changes there so gradually that it would probably appear normal to me, and I don’t think that I would be so intrigued by the subject.
So there is a China Town in Honolulu?
Chinatown in Honolulu is a historical district covering 15 city blocks. It is the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. My first solo exhibition was held at a restaurant called Lucky Belly in Chinatown in Honolulu in 2012. Besides artwork, their food and service are excellent. I highly recommend it.
Next year you are showing work with a gentleman we interviewed in the Creative Spotlight, Masami Teraoka, who told us about his exploration into the Catholic Church’s morality recently, as the clergy’s sex abuse issues had spread globally and the current transparent cultural environment. Will you be sharing work of equal importance?
It’s an honor to show my work with great established artists like Masami Teraoka and Mayumi Oda at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition on modern and contemporary Japanese erotica (November 20, 2014 – March 15, 2015). The title of my work is: “Moe” Elements of the Floating World I. Moe is Japanese slang that describes something precious such as the idealized visions of youth and innocent femininity. In my paintings, I have been incorporating the images of teenage girls wearing French maid costumes or school uniforms in public in Tokyo. These two outfits have become a huge phenomenon in Japanese society in the past decade and continue in popularity to this day. A fashion statement, these outfits evoke a sense of innocence or submission that arouses men. As such, men superimpose these girls onto their favorite characters in erotic games and pornography. Although Japan’s gender gap is still wide, women’s position in society has slowly improved. I soon realized that those images are so popular because Japanese men are still trying to adjust to this social status that women have recently developed. This phenomenon suggests that patriarchy is still very much alive and deeply rooted in Japanese men and is supported by complex economic, historical, ideological and political aspects. This tension manifests itself through the choice of imagery and composition in my work, drawing from the various above-mentioned references.
What is the biggest differential between modern and contemporary Japanese erotic art? Has it really evolved all that much?
In the modern art period (1860-1970), the censorship of erotic art was enforced by the government. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) and then after WWII, the ban on pornography applied to erotic art in Japan. Today, obscenity is still prohibited there, but the definition of obscenity is obscure. Though shunga has influenced contemporary art including anime and manga, it is still considered an obscenity and is ambiguously prohibited. I thought it was ironic that while shunga cannot be shown in Japan, Makoto Aida’s was allowed to be included in his solo exhibition at Mori Museum in 2012, even though Aida’s work is clearly related to shunga.
Lastly, any advice you could offer up to a fellow female artist?
Don’t let your gender obstruct your passage.
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