In the 1990’s both in Japan and overseas, many exhibitions displayed Japanese photographic art works of individuals, mirroring body, gender and identity issues. The Western art world has reacted with a number of articles, with some attempting to re-establish clichés of Japan, often by praising the “typical Japanese” combination of West and East, whilst others are critical of the artists’ use of “exoticism” as a marketing strategy. However, instead of categorising and evaluating from a Eurocentric viewpoint, the artworks must be analysed in detail, taking into account their cultural background and their production conditions as well as the photographic medium.
My paper is divided into two parts. In the first part I am giving an introduction to the Japanese art and photography world of the 1990’s, relating to interviews with Japanese curators, art historians and artists. In the second part I am focussing on the artwork Portrait (Futago) by Yasumasa Morimura, which references Manet’s famous painting Olympia. The staged photograph is cleverly reflecting Japan’s relationship with the West, and raising questions about cultural and gender identity and about originality in a world flooded by a plethora of images.
Lena Fritsch is a PhD candidate in Art History at Bonn University, and a scholar of the German National Academic Foundation. She is currently doing research in Japan, grace of a scholarship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She has published a book on Yasumasa Morimura’s Self-Portrait as Actress series in 2008.