Japanese works show dark side of being cute.
Byline: JULIE CHAMBERLAIN
AFASCINATING exhibition explores art works inspired by the Japanese concept of 'kawaii', or cute, and its sometimes darker side.
The culture of kawaii has many levels of meaning, and the exhibition explores these through the works of a number of Japanese artists working in textiles, lacquer, ceramics, glass, Ohisgashi - which is sculpting of soft bean paste - and washi, handmade paper.
Kawaii also means someone or something that is sweet and appealing; one of the first works you see on entering the room at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is a tower of what looks like pink and gorgeous cup cakes by Minako Nishiyama. Next to it photos show them melting and ants crawling over them, showing the unpleasant side of cute and sickly.
Chie Sakai has made fabric prints of cute things including teddy bears, and made them into smocking, some pulled too tight to make them hard and unpleasant. Ichizo Ino has used traditional lacquer to create a cute scene of a child and animal. Nearby a teddy bear made from barbed wire shows cute isn't always cuddly.
Chie Kinoshita's Little Red Riding Hood is also anything but cute, using a traditional dyeing technique to make the character's clothes, and questions the exploitative relationship between kawaii girls and older men.
In another work, a traditional face from Manga cartoons of a character called Annette has been repeated over and over on a large fabric curtain, depersonalising her. Mitsuo Toyazaki takes overlooked items which have been made with a high level of skill and tries to show their value. Buttons are placed in ring boxes, and small plastic toys are joined together and displayed like prized bonsai trees.
Yu Uchida has taken a polar bear lollipop image and displayed it several times over in different cases, one showing it eating a melting model of itself, as a statement about climate change.
Nobuko Tsutsumi's work is described as kinokawaii, or creepy cute, and consists of ceramic shellfish. Shin Enomoto has made a lot of genderless and strange soft dolls which hang from the ceiling and are yabai, or dangerous and attractive, apparently.
Chika Ohgi's work dominates one part of the gallery, a large hanging curtain of pink paper designed to look like falling cherry blossom petals.
It's a fascinating exhibition with lots to admire and absorb about a fascinating aspect of Japanese culture which has more aspects of it the more you look.
Chie Kinoshita's Little Red Riding Hood (above left) and one of Mitsuo Toyazaki pieces where small plastic toys have been joined together and displayed like a prized bonsai tree