January 6, 2015

ART: Reframing the Geisha

Reframing the Geisha - (28 Images)
   The Geisha is one of the most well known & pervasive symbols not only of Japan, but of all the "Orient". Gisaeng (기생) in Korea, concubines in China; throughout Asia there are comparable equivalents. 

   I have curated 30 works of art, from 12 artists (3 non-Asian men, 3 Asian men & 6 Asian women) portraying or influenced by geisha, to explore the remixing & reframing of this ancient symbol.

Source, please (Google image search failed)

Yellow pleasure doll
Unspoken promise of more
Corrupt floating dreams
Android Jones - http://androidjones.com/
   Android Jones  -  Rainbow Geisha (Prints)

   The idea of the geisha is mythical, she captures the imaginations of not only foreign men, but Asian women as well & everyone in between.
James Roper - http://www.jroper.co.uk/
   James Roper  -  Exvoluta Mori

   In recent years, geisha have become more of a controversial stereotype.

   Non-Asians imagine all Asian women possessing the characteristics of a geisha; existing only to serve, entertain & "please" men. When white women dress-up as geisha, it is with this same idea in mind. They want to play at being a mysterious, submissive, sensual object. 
Hakanphotography (Akif Celebi) - http://hakanphotography.com/
   Hakan Photography - [above & below] PHOTOBOOK

   Part of the problem is that, from the beginning geisha lifestyle was an art. Maiko; young, virgin geisha apprentices practice for hours everyday to perfect singing, dancing, playing music, etiquette, dressing, etc. The goal is to become the perfect teahouse hostess, anticipating & meeting the guest's every desire.  
Hakanphotography (Akif Celebi) - http://hakanphotography.com/
   In every documentary & book, they always stress that geisha were not prostitutes. I believe this is true in the direct transaction (money for sex) sense. But I know for a fact there are many 'nitespots' in Asia that operate in a similar way, such as singing rooms, hostess clubs or coyote dancers. You may be able to choose a girl to sit with you, but that doesn't ensure you will have sex with her. 

   HR-FM  -  Hikifurisode Ex-Machina (Print)
HR-FM - http://www.hr-fm.com/
   Besides singing & dancing, geisha also play silly flirty drinking games with guests. I see the whole geisha experience as a kind of game, a game of temptation. The more often you visit & the more money you spend the closer you get to having sex with a virgin. 

   Geisha were the popstars & supermodels of their day. They weren't going to sleep with anyone who had a few thousand yen, but men with power & influence could enjoy their company. Think about the Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) scandal a few years ago, where she was accused of sleeping with high ranking Chinese officials for money. 

   Victo Ngai  -  Tomb Raider (Print)
Victo Ngai - http://victo-ngai.com/
   This is clearly, NOT a geisha, but a Chinese royal courtesan.

   I like how Laura Croft, a ridiculously strong & powerful female character is sinking into the image of the courtesan like quicksand. At the same time, the courtesan's image is becoming grossly deformed. 

   What does this say about the current state of Asian female identity?

   Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子)  -  SHOP
Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子) - http://yukoart.com/
   I talked about Yuko's reimagining of the geisha as a powerful, active, modern superwoman in a previous blog post.
Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子) - http://yukoart.com/
   These women are sexy, confident & with the exception of the painting below, not simply standing around posing, waiting for a man.
Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子) - http://yukoart.com/
   Two iconic symbols of Japan, the rising sun & Mt. Fuji adorning the crotch of these women. They are the creators, giving birth to & nourishing the nation.
Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子) - http://yukoart.com/
Yuko Shimizu's (清水裕子) - http://yukoart.com/
   HiroyukiTakahashi (タカハシヒロユキ)  -  T-shirt SHOP
HiroyukiTakahashi (タカハシヒロユキ) - http://www5f.biglobe.ne.jp/%7eslipper/
   Hiroyuki brings a very contemporary pop-goth or nu-goth twist on geisha fashion; the brightly colored, wild patterned kimonos with an explosion of pop culture hair ornaments & hi-tech platform sandals.
HiroyukiTakahashi (タカハシヒロユキ) - http://www5f.biglobe.ne.jp/%7eslipper/
   These women are clearly not meant to be geisha, but the influence should be obvious.
HiroyukiTakahashi (タカハシヒロユキ) - http://www5f.biglobe.ne.jp/%7eslipper/
   Yumiko Kayukawa (粥川由美子)  -  SHOP
Yumiko Kayukawa (粥川由美子) - http://sweetyumiko.com/
   Yumiko offers an interesting comparison between the traditional & modern geisha. Here the modern geisha depicted as a rockstar.
Yumiko Kayukawa (粥川由美子) - http://sweetyumiko.com/
   Shohei Otomo  -  PRINTS
Shohei Otomo - http://www.hakuchi.jp/
   Now, a young Japanese man's perspective of the modern geisha.
Shohei Otomo - http://www.hakuchi.jp/
   Notice how these geisha are much angrier & more aggressive. All of them displaying rude gestures; sneering, flipping off, bared teeth, & sticking out the tongue.
Shohei Otomo - http://www.hakuchi.jp/
   These women have no interest in pleasing men, just the opposite.
Shohei Otomo - http://www.hakuchi.jp/
   Hiroyuki Matsuura (松浦 浩之)  -  ARTBOOK
Hiroyuki Matsuura (松浦 浩之) - http://hiroyukimatsuura.com/
   These are sweeter, simpler geisha more in line with tradition. The twist here is they are composed anime/manga style, which is still mostly about catering to male fantasies of women.
Hiroyuki Matsuura (松浦 浩之) - http://hiroyukimatsuura.com/
   Audrey Kawasaki  -  PRINTS
Audrey Kawasaki - http://www.audrey-kawasaki.com/
   Audrey's work is usually very sensual & these are no exception. Here we see, possibly Chinese concubines, their origin isn't quite clear & neither are their intentions. They gaze directly at the viewer; your interpretation of their intent is part of her art, much like the Mona Lisa.
Audrey Kawasaki - http://www.audrey-kawasaki.com/
   Funarium (Yoshimi Mori)  -  ARTBOOK
Funarium (Yoshimi Ohtani) - http://www.funarium.com/
   Yoshimi gives us fairly traditional images of geisha, but the modern edge comes thru her technique. The crisp details of her digital vector art hints at the future of robotics & AI. This will be the new moral dilemma as sexbots, manufactured & coded to please come online.
Funarium (Yoshimi Ohtani) - http://www.funarium.com/
   "Asian women are fetishized and sexualized to their detriment in our society. When Katy Perry puts on Asian culture to give her boring song performance an “exotic” flavor for a few minutes, she doesn’t have to deal with the the stigma of being an Asian woman for the rest of her life... In those five minutes where she “played Asian”, however, she reified and normalized the white fetishization of Asian women and Asian culture." 
        - Hannah of AfternoonSnoozeButton
Funarium (Yoshimi Ohtani) - http://www.funarium.com/
   Cultural appropriation has become a hot topic on social media. One example is when Katy Perry went full geisha on the 2013 American Music Awards.
   Hannah from AfternoonSnoozeButton thoroughly broke down the performance & why she found it offensive.  

Katy Perry - Unconditionally (AMA's 2013)

   While it was definitely Yellowface, I'm not sure how offended I am. I think it was too cliche, like what a Wikipedia search on symbols of Japan would turn up & she just put all that in her show. She may just show up on my Worst Asian EVR list soon.

   Here are Phil Yu, Jenny Yang & guests talking more about Katy & going full geisha on ISAtv.

Angry Asian America: Full Geisha


Japanology Plus: Thru the Eyes of a Geisha
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