In Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868), the growth of urban audiences and new popular entertainments from kabuki theater to travel tourism developed in tandem with new printing technologies. This resulted in the rise of new forms of visual culture—including color woodblock prints and printed textiles—that could be mass produced, transformed, and consumed.
Subsequently, photography and electronic media have fostered the global spread of Japanese popular visual culture, including manga, anime, cosplay, and subcultural fashion. This spread across different technologies, eras, and cultures has produced an incredible diversity of material—reproductions, appropriations, reverse-importations, parodies, remixes, and tributes. At the same time, the central themes and motifs—sports, fashion, and fighting, along with fantasies of all kinds—have remained remarkably consistent.
These themes and media technologies are integrally linked with the human body: as subject, maker, performer, viewer, and consumer. Bodies represented in 18th-century prints, 19th-century photographs, and 20th-century anime cels are seen taking similar actions, from gazing in mirrors to exchanging blows. These bodies can be read variously as objectified or self-actualized; as violated, celebrated, or liberated; as objects of pure, popular consumption or as nuanced critiques of consumption itself.
Guest curators Christopher Bolton, Professor of Comparative and Japanese Literature, Panalee Maskati ’20, Eron Rauch, artist and critic, Diana Tolin, World Cosplay Summit Alumna and Coordinator, Wei (Maggie) Wu, MA ’19, with Lisa Dorin, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Contemporary Art