In collaboration with the Japanese Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum, the Helsinki City Art Museum will put on a historic
exhibition of old Japanese art at its Meilahti galleries. The exhibition will present screens and ink paintings from the 15th
to the 19th century by Zen monk Sesshû and his followers.
Sesshû (1420—1506) was a Zen monk, teacher and the most important ink painter of the Muromachi period
(1338—1573). During this period, Japanese culture experienced a profound change, and one of the main catalysts to it
was the increasing cultural role of Zen Buddhism. Sesshû, who is also known as Sesshû Tôyo, studied the technique of
ink painting in Chinese Zen monasteries. After returning to his hometown Yamaguchi, he developed a new expressive
style based on his studies, which became the foundation of Japanese ink painting. With superb mastering of tonal scale,
Sesshû's monochrome ink paintings depict landscapes, Zen Buddhist teachings, flowers and animals. His followers
founded the Unkoku School which dedicated itself to protect and develop the tradition established by the Master.
The works in the exhibition present an extensive overview of the art of Sesshû and his followers. They are considered
national treasures in Japan, and are on loan from the collections of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum. This is the first
time they are seen outside Japan. A catalogue will be published in connection with the exhibition, and it will include an
article on Sesshû and his followers by Tsunenori Fukushima, an expert of Japanese Zen painting. The catalogue will also
include introductory texts on the paintings, which have been written by Minoru Watada who is a researcher at the
Prefectural Museum in Yamaguchi.
The screens and paintings in the exhibition may only be exhibited for a limited period at a time. For this reason, the
exhibition consists of two sections with different works; the second section will begin in early October. Thus the public
will be able to visit two exhibitions.
Helsinki is a European City of Culture in 2000. The exhibition is a part of the year of culture programme. It has also
received support from the Japan Foundation.