Takashi Murakami:
Japan Supernatural

A new major exhibition at Art Gallery of New South Wales traces Japan’s fascination with the Otherworld from the Edo period until now.

FEATURE by Alison Kubler NOV 2019

Many of the most-loved childrens fairytales across history are remarkably macabre stories, peopled by child-eating witches, evil queens, dragons and ghosts. Think of the Grimm Brothers stories, for example, or even Hans Christian Andersens fables. Almost every culture has a version of these portentous tales but perhaps none are quite so compelling as those that have stemmed from Japanese culture.

Japan Supernatural, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of Sydney International Art Series, features over 180 works by some of the greatest Japanese artists over the last 300 years and examines the rich tradition of the supernatural in art from the early Edo period through to now. The Art Gallery of New South Wales Senior Curator of Asian Art, Melanie Eastburn explains, Japanese artists have used intricate narratives and powerful imagery to make the invisible world of the supernatural tangible. The origin of the exhibition lies partly in Eastburns childhood fascination with a book she had as a child called The Badger Woods (1977) by Iraphne Childs, a collection of Japanese folktales.

Known in Japan as y?kai, y?rei, bakemono and mononoke (expressed in artwork as animals, fiendish imps, monsters and ethereal spirits), evocations of the paranormal are everywhere in ancient Japanese folklore, but are still hugely popular today. Yokai often have animal traits and can shapeshift, as can bakemono; yurei are ghosts who left their human souls in tragic circumstances, by murder or suicide, and who exist in an in-between state, most often returning to their past lives. Mononoke are particularly evil spirits. .. Subscribe to read this article in full

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