Indepth Arts News: |
"Heroes and Villains from Japan's Floating World"
2001-05-19 until 2001-08-19
Art Gallery of New South Wales
In classical Japanese art,
the best-loved heroes come
to tragic ends
Images of famous and infamous
men in Japanese literature,
poetry and folklore from the Edo
period to the present are
featured in the exhibition
HEROES AND VILLAINS from
Japan's Floating World. The
almost 100 paintings, prints and
various objects in this exhibition
are drawn from the Gallery's
own collection as well as from
other Australian public and
For centuries many samurai
heroes and villains have
inspired awe, sympathy or
horror among the Japanese
people and have been
immortalised in images. Perhaps Japan’s favourite samurai story is Chushingura
or the 47 Loyal retainers. Based on actual events, this is a story of 47 ex-retainers
of the Lord of Ako. Their loyalty and sacrifice, and the stoicism with which they
accepted the death verdict, encapsulated the most admirable samurai qualities.
Some Japanese swords – the soul of the samurai – will also be displayed.
For a hero to win the heart of the Japanese people he had to die a tragic death.
The best example is Yoshitsune – a genius in battle. But his fame aroused suspicion
in his brother who organised to have him killed in 1189 at the age of 30. The
hardships he endured, his military success and tragic death provided the perfect
ingredients to make him the best-loved hero of all time in Japan. Many images in this
exhibition will illustrate anecdotes and legends from his life.
Unlike Yoshitsune or the 47 retainers, Prince Genji, the aristocratic hero of the
Tales of Genji, written in the early 11th century, is a fictional figure. Extremely
handsome, an accomplished poet and musician, and a lover no woman can resist,
Genji cannot succeed the imperial throne because of his mother’s humble birth.
However, his character is by no means unblemished – he has a secret love affair
with his stepmother, the Empress, who gives birth to a child whose resemblance to
Genji torments both him and the Empress. Yet Genji, whatever his conduct, is a true
aristocrat who has fascinated people for centuries.
The paintings, prints and objects lavishly illustrating these stories and many others,
have been selected by Dr. Chiaki Ajioka, Curator of Japanese Art at the Art Gallery
of New South Wales.