EROTIC PROVOCATION IN JAPANESE SURREALISM
WITH MAJELLA MUNRO
24th November 2010
Doors at 6 pm, Talk commences at 7 pm
11 Mare Street, London
For the European Surrealists, sexual liberation was the means by which all other political and socio-economic liberations could be achieved. Their interest in erotic love and in psychoanalytic enquiry into sexual dysfunction was not a poetic affectation, but part of a political program to destroy received social conventions. The intellectual and artistic convulsions created by their ground-breaking ideas were felt not only throughout Europe, but worldwide.
The existence of a Surrealist movement in Japan is only just beginning to be revealed. It has previously been dismissed by scholars who complain that the rebellion achieved by French Surrealists could not have been mimicked in conservative, conformist Japan. Meanwhile, in contemporary Western pop-culture representations, Japan is construed as a place where all manner of sexual expression is tolerated. The Japanese tradition of populist pornography is one of the oldest in the world, while the blatancy and ingenuity of its extensive red-light districts never fail to surprise. It is impossible to imagine that Surrealism, with its provocative focus on sexuality, did not enjoy an erotic manifestation in this context.
The 1930s in Japan is usually depicted as a period of dour militarisation, of fascism, war, and thought-control. But it was also a period of experimentation with avant-garde expression, with sexual provocation, and with the limitations of conventional gender roles; experiments which had political aims and implications. These experiments transformed painting and poetry at the time, and exerted a powerful influence on photography and cinema of the 1960s, during which the innovations of the 1930s avant-gardes were revisited in the new, post-war context. This presentation will uncover not only how the Japanese responded to the imported disciplines of Surrealism and Psychoanalysis, but also how they drew on domestic culture and Japan's long tradition of populist pornography to interpret Surrealist eroticism in a manner which was innovative, intriguing, and distinctly Japanese.
Majella Munro is an art historian, journalist and managing editor of Modern Art Asia . Her book “Understanding Shunga: A Guide to Japanese Erotic Art” was published by the Erotic Review Books in 2008. She is currently in Japan researching the role of the Japanese avant-garde during the Second World War.
Visit thelasttuesdaysociety.org/japanesesurrealism.html for futher information.
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