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"Heroes and Villains from Japan's Floating World"
2001-05-19 until 2001-08-19
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Sydney, , AU Australia

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 private collections.

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.


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