This exhibition examines the conceptual links between artists’ depictions of Japanese women and the actual roles that they played in Japanese society. Glimpses into the floating world of ukiyo-e reveal courtesans dressed in the latest fashions with elaborate hair and makeup. Scenes set in the Yoshiwara reflect the sexually explicit images of geisha and courtesans attending to their male clientele. Artists’ representations of domestic women speak to women’s roles as mother and wife, and strong traditions of Noh theater develop into cross-dressing practices. In each instance, established gender roles are challenged both by those representing and those who are being represented. The resulting gender-bender forces us to question the relevance of subjective gender classifications, and confirms that the artistic representation is an indispensable part of comprehension.
This concept carries over into our greater scheme of curating an exhibition on women in Japanese art. The very word “geisha” means “artist,” and to be a geisha means to be judged as a moving work of art. Geisha are professional entertainers who practice the art of conversation, music, and dance. Much in the way that geisha are artists, we as curators are also artists, and have come to think of the culmination of the curatorial process as our art. We encourage you to get to know the women in this exhibition and to consider the ways in which their depiction sheds light on a broader understanding of Japanese culture.
This exhibition is funded in part by a grant from the
Cornell Council for the Arts and a generous gift from Betsey and Alan Harris.
2006–2007 History of Art Majors’ Society
Hilary Coe Smith