Tomoko Sawada at KPO Kirin Plaza and MEM, Osaka

This is my second post about Tomoko Sawada about whom I wrote two years ago already. Currently she has two exhibitions at KPO Gallery at Kirin PlazaKirin Plaza itself is worth a visit. The building – which gives the impression of a huge sculpture – by the architect Shin Takamtsu is a landmark building in Osaka. Scenes from the movie “Black Rain” were filmed at Kirin Plaza and at MEM gallery in Osaka (until Sept. 3).

“Masquerade” at KPO shows Tomoko Sawada in the guise of a few hundred different self-created identities. The exhibition includes the series “OMIAI” (2001), “Cover/Face” (2002) and “Recruit” (2006). A new book by Sawada with the title of the exhibition “Masquerade” is due to be published soon. In conjunction with the exhibition at Kirin Plaza, MEM gallery exhibits “Early Works” from 1996/97 which have not been shown to the public before.

A review in the Japan Times pointed me to the exhibition at KPO.Just as a side note: The Japan Times is the only English language newspaper in Japan which carries regular exhibitions reviews on Western and Japanese arts. But the lack of reviews/discussions on modern and contemporary art is not limited to English newspapers. It seems that the Japanese art world – in contrary to Europe and the USA – is quite isolated from the public discourse, since for example the Japanese newspapers don’t carry feature pages on art neither. By the way: the observation that the contemporary art world is isolated from the mainstream of the Japanese society is one pillar of Takashi Murakami’s controversially discussed “Superflat” art theory.

“All of them are me,” she said in a 2004 interview with NY Arts Magazine, “I don’t try to be someone else.”
That being so, her body of work is a phantasmagoric play of self-imaging that is volatile and restless in the infinite adjustments of pose, clothing, hair and makeup.

Tomoko Sawada «Omiai», 2001

The “OMIAI” (2001) series tackles the Japanese tradition of arranged marriages in which photo albums of a potential bride-to-be are presented to prospective families in hopes of getting a “bite.” The 30 or so works in the series show the artist in a variety of carefully arranged poses, and in attire from gaudy kimono to Western-style formal and business wear, with her hair variously dyed or done up. The range of types, colors and even tackiness caters to a broad audience and recalls the way little girls and boys play dress-up. But the imagery is designed to appeal to the groom and his family, and so it reveals a certain female subservience, coupled with the commodification of the bride in its pseudo-advertising.

Tomoko Sawada «School Days/ A», 2004

Sawada’s body of work essentially follows on from projects begun in the 1960s by American feminists, who dissected the cultural conditioning of feminine roles and conventions. Such identity politics saturated the Western art world from the 1970s throughout the ’90s. But while earlier work, such as Cindy Sherman’s, was often challenging and barbed, Sawada parodies conventions without overt criticism. Her originality lies, instead, in fleshing out the constructed, stereotypical roles of femininity in Japan, letting them meld together to produce their ultimate beginning and end — a portrait of the artist as herself.
[Quotes: The Japan Times]

Tomoko Sawada «ID400», 2004

I was bound by an inferiority complex. When I started to take pictures, I loved my image taken in photos, which looked attractive and cute. I could make myself look like a model or an actress in pictures. As I looked at my pictures again and again, the gap between my real image and my image in a picture widened. In other words, my appearance could be changed easily, but my personality did not change. An ID picture proves the identity or the existence of a person in the picture. That is, even if someone does not exist in this world, if he or she appears in an ID picture, that person can prove his or her existence. One’s personality is said to show in one’s appearance. However, even if one’s appearance changes, the essence does not change. Such a contradiction motivated me to create my work. Anyone in these ID pictures could be myself.
[Quote: Tomoko Sawada]

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Recommended Books:
Tomoko Sawada: Omiai
Tomoko Sawada: ID400
Tomoko Sawada: School Days
Tomoko Sawada: Masquerade (to be published soon)

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