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Sacred Monsters: Everyday Animism in Contemporary Japanese Art and Anime
September 10 - November 22, 2009
Tisch Gallery

Click here for an animated slideshow featuring commentary from Gallery Director and exhibition co-curator Amy Schlegel!

Listen to our guided tour stops here!

STOP 1: Introduction to Sacred Monsters: Everyday Animism in Contemporary Japanese Art and Anime, Amy Ingrid Schlegel

STOP 2: Animism and Modernity, Charles Shiro Inouye, professor of Japanese literature, Tufts University

STOP 3: The supernatural, Amy Ingrid Schlegel

STOP 4: Chiho Aoshima's Sun Goddess Amaterasu and the Ninigi Legend, Erin Rice, MA10, Art History, Tufts University

STOP 5: The Festival, Charles Shiro Inouye

STOP 6: Anime program, Susan J. Napier, professor of Japanese, Tufts University

STOP 7: Japanese Visuality and the Horror of Realism, Charles Shiro Inouye


Participating Artists: Chiho Aoshima / Nobuhiro Ishihara / Kenjiro Kitade / Mahomi Kunikata / Tomokazu Matsuyama / Mr. / Oscar Oiwa / TOKYO KAMEN

This exhibition examines representations of mythical spirits, gods, monsters, and other mutant, sentient beings in contemporary Japanese art and film as expressions of animist belief through the work of eight emerging and mid-career artists. The theme is also explored through a complementary program of continuous anime screenings presented in the Gallery.

Many contemporary Japanese visual artists and animators incorporate animist beliefs in their work as cultural rather than religious expression. A shared iconography connects the artists and anime included in this exhibition, ranging from kami (gods) to yokai (monsters), sentient and non-sentient beings with supernatural powers, and hybrid mythical creatures. These traditionally Japanese representations - visible, tangible, and ubiquitous - actively dissolve boundaries between the living and the dead, the human and non-human realms.

Chiho Aoshima's anime-inspired work evokes a gothic realm of spirits and monsters that are neither anthropomorphic things or animals nor distorted, grotesque humans. Aoshima's beings continually change forms but are frozen, like stills from animated films. A visit to the ancient Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, at night sparked painter Nobuhiro Ishihara's interest in investigating the legend of the deer-messenger. He reimagines the folkloric spirit as a wise but tormented kami. Kenjiro Kitade's earthenware sculptures symbolize a premature, foreboding intelligence of environmental disaster that feels simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic. Mahomi Kunikata paints scenes grounded in Japan's traditional culture of matsuri. Her manga-esque drawing style and big-eyed characters are pastiches of contemporary and traditional social references. Tomokazu Matsuyama
re-presents the mythical creature known in Japan as the kirin. Japanese art has depicted this powerful yet peaceful beast as having the attributes of a deer, a dragon, and a unicorn. Mr. created an anime-inspired doll head with an aperture through which viewers encounter a miniature dollhouse inside the hollowed-out head. Oscar Oiwa's paintings compose strangely unpopulated cityscapes that are nevertheless animated by mysterious, unseen forces. Tunnels and passageways beckon us to foreboding realms we can only imagine. Finally, fashion design duo TOKYO KAMEN (Tokyo Mask) have created a troupe of five life-size "monster dolls" made of brightly colored fake fur and decorative materials.

Continous Screenings:
Akira, 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo
Beautiful Dreamer, 1984, Mamoru Oshii
Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence, 2004, Mamoru Oshii
My Neighbor Totoro, 1998, Hayao Miyazaki
Paprika, 2006, Satoshi Kon
Princess Mononoke, 1997, Hayao Miyazaki
Spirited Away, 2001, Hayao Miyazaki
The Grudge (Ju-on), 2002, Takashi Shimizu

The Tufts University Art Gallery has teamed up with Tufts professors Charles Shiro Inouye, Hosea Hirata, and Susan J. Napier, all experts in modern and contemporary Japanese literature and culture, to organize this exhibition.

This exhibition is co-curated by Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Gallery Director, and Jonathan Barracato, 2008-09 Gallery Graduate Assistant.