Goddesses who’ve experienced Japan recognise a deep set and unique culture that has created Anime and Pokemon Go. The otherworldly landscape, the creatures with special powers fighting for and against the population and the sinister long black hair in “The Ring” and “The Grudge” are grounded in Japan’s spiritualism that has inspired and continues to inspire artists.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ summer show “Japan Supernatural” juxtaposes the history and contemporary expression of the spirits and demons living alongside the Japanese. In Shinto, Japan’s folk religion, everything has a spirit which behaves in accordance with its nature. Each yokai (spirit) has a way that mortals cannot understand – it just does what it does. Perhaps this random influence enables the Japanese to live in apparent peace on an island where earthquakes or tsunamis could eliminate major cities in a flash as well as being surrounded by their historical political enemies.

Hideta Kitazawa is the contemporary maker of Noh Theatre Masks, several of which are in the first room of the show. While this immeasurably slow theatre form spoken in idiosyncratic distorted Japanese performed over many hours may not be to Goddess’ taste, the masks reveal the dual nature of Japanese life. A hannya is the demon within a woman driven by jealousy and obsession. In Noh she will reveal herself with a horned mask. Curiously, even now, in a traditional wedding the bride wears a large headpiece to hide her horns.

Itaya Hiroharu’s scroll “Night Procession of the Hundred Demons” illustrates that demons that possess everyday objects who frolic through the home at night. Objects acquire a yokai in their hundredth year, so historically Japanese families would dispose of an object before their centenary.

Perhaps the yokai lifecycle is now greatly reduced in the Japanese psyche compelling  discarding the old and purchasing this year’s model of fashion and technology in an accelerated superstition of their grandparents.

The exhibition presents two major and huge works by Japan’s art rock star Takashi Murakami. The 25 meter long painting “In the Land of the Dead” represents historical characters like the Eight Immortals and a dream eating elephant to offer understanding and context to the many who suffered in the 2011 tsunami. Takashi also created the centrepiece of the show, commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for “Japan Supernatural” and guarded by two enormous demon sculptures. It represents a battle between and gigantic feline spirit and an army of samurai. Don’t miss the playful nekomata (dancing cats) in the foreground unconcerned by the chaos behind them. Takashi creates these enormous intricate works with a team of hundreds, running art creation like a business project and napping in cardboard box in the studio.

Goddesses visiting this exhibition will be treated to several prints by Katushiko Hokusai, who created that most famous wave that defines our image of Japanese art in his 90th year.  Despite being almost two centuries old, prints like “Laughing Demoness” are stunningly vibrant and contemporary in their colour and design. The hannya in this print appears in the window looking for a child to eat.

The same room as the old master displays the work of the very contemporary Chiho Aoshima. Her delicate pencil and watercolour images portray a world of objects with spirits inhabited by MoiMoi, her own fairy like invention. Wistful and enchanting, Chiho portrays a slightly sad but more optimistic spiritual world.

Goddesses will love the exit through the gift shop. In addition to the exhibition catalogue there are dozens of well curated Japanese products especially Tengui, an economical multi-use hand cloth are both a useful and ornamental omiyage (souvenir).

Photography and Text by Mark Ferguson

Japan Supernational
3rd November 2019 – 8 March 2020
Art Gallery of New South Wales



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