Makoto Aida on pessimism and art in Japan

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

An interesting insight on an aspect of Japanese art that has had me mystified:

Laced with dark humor, the work shows a group of uniform-clad schoolgirls plunging samurai swords into their stomachs, disemboweling themselves, and slicing off their own heads. The flash of a blade creates a rainbow in the blood spurting from a girl’s neck. A stream of blood flows past a curious kitten, karaoke flyers, and discarded tissues, into a drain. The work is gruesomely cute. “Harakiri School Girls is an allegory for the distorted mentality of Japanese youth at the time and the atmosphere of Japanese society,” Aida explains. “After the Bubble Economy collapsed, I felt that an air of pessimism was spreading through Japan like a virus.” Everything might have looked cute and happy, but underneath that veneer seethed dejection and darkness. During the nineties, the number of suicides increased year by year, and according to Aida, Japanese patriotism withered away. These schoolgirls, in their loose socks and school uniforms, symbolize the entire country, killing itself.

In Harakiri School Girls Aida did not want to simply fetishize uniform-wearing girls or create a modern version of traditional bijinga (pictures of beautiful women). Instead he created an homage to the brutal works of ukiyo-e artist Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) and the painter Ekin (1812-1876), both known for their ghastly and grotesque work showing decapitations, stabbings and dramatic scenes of death. “In order to escape the eroticism of the nude, or more explicitly the genitals,” says Aida, “I depicted blood and internal organs.” And girls in school uniforms. Killing themselves. Smiling.

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