There are practitioners in Japan who are fed up of being saturated with this consumer culture, and in particular with the dominance of Kawaii and Otaku culture influenced depiction of women.
Bye Bye Kitty
In March 2012 17 artists form Japan displayed their work in New York, in the hope the exhibition would open the West’s eyes to a creative activist culture living in Japan. The exhibition entitled “Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art” makes a direct attack on Hello Kitty the symbol of Kawaii culture and consumerist values.
The objectification of women in anime/manga is so common in modern Japan it has become almost normal, utilised by companies as a selling technique and ever strong in it’s pop culture roots anime and manga. Makoto Aida’s series of body painting photographs confront societies acceptance by stripping away the characters context. The character isn’t contained in it’s original space, nor in it’s expected place, has not been manipulated by companies, protected by the product and glossy pages. It is out there, painted on the skin of a young woman. This is Aida’s attempt to instantly shock the spectator and make them begin to question what is considered normal or acceptable and to help Aida in his mission to, in his own words “further express Japans twisted parts”. Aida’s position as a male commenting on the depiction of women let’s him critique his own life as well as making others think about theirs. In a conversation for “Bye Bye Kitty” about his constant use of young women in his art he says, “I am not motivated form within to draw mature women. I think it’s a little bit of a condition which I have. I feel as if my condition is a shared condition among present-day Japanese society.” Aida identifies himself and other men in the role of the pervert, using his role to point out where the problems lie, not only with the representation of women but the interpretation by men.
More from the show
Aida is not the only practitioner from the Be Bye Kitty exhibition to make an activist standpoint through their photographs. Miwa Yanagi explores how real women who are saturated with sexual imagery and kawaii culture on a daily bases see their future in her series ‘My Grandmother’.
Mariko Mori’s isn’t featured in the exhibition, her work however has similar values as Aida’s and Yanagi’s, but instead of removing the context from the subject, Mori add’s something too it. In the image ‘Love Hotel’ we see mori herself in a rigid position smiling at the camera, as though she is welcoming someone. The silver suit worn under the school uniform creates the illusion of a robot being or cyborg, suggesting all women are expected to be the same. The school girl uniform informs us of how they are expected to be, an object of mens desire, youthful and innocent. The seedy looking hotel room and image title brings in the sexual element, referring to Japanese hotels that are specifically made for sex. That little silver suit acts as a fragmentation piece, breaking the image apart to make us think about this girl in a different way, on a more conscious level.