13 July 2018
Japanese Women Artists in New York
Midori Yoshimoto submitted her doctoral dissertation to Rutgers University in 2002. She introduces five women artists: Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, and Shigeko Kubota involved in a huge New York avant-garde movement during the 1950s and 60s. Three sections are focus on life in Japan of the five artists and three other sections discuss life in American of the five artists. Yoshimoto offers some problems in the Japanese art world that eventually led a significant number of artists to leave their country. The next section discusses the change from a specific time in Japanese avant-garde artists collectives who utilize their bodies during performance. Yoshimoto analyzes how Ono, Shiomi, and Kubota who would partake in Happenings’ and discuss how they are first introduced in Japan. Next, the author discusses when the five artists moved to the United States. The fifth section focuses about the reemergence of American curiosity of Eastern philosophy as well as the first Japanese artist appearance in America. Lastly, Yoshimoto explains Japanese influence in Western culture as well as sociocultural connections of Japanese female identity in the 1960s.
The artists had successes in Japan, but realized their artistic influence was restricted and eventually left to the United States in the mid-1960s. There was a wave of Japanese artists emigrating to the U.S. to work on their art. Only a few scholars have researched this phenomenon that is still going on today. That is of trailblazing women artists having this kind of background emigrating to the U.S. to work on their art. The Japanese art world has mirrored the Japanese patriarchal society where it is run by men and seniority is run by a few artist associations known as Bijutsu dantai or kai. Yoshimoto references that Japanese-style painting also known as Nihonga is suggested to be highly rated over Western-style painting, also known as yoga, as male superior exists within the culture. Women can exist in the Japanese art world although, they are at the bottom of the totem pole. It is rather difficult for a woman without any type of connections to find a place in the male-run bijutsu dantai. There is a large difference between traditional and modern art that is borrowed from the Western culture since the reopening trade in 1868.
Yoshimoto argues this is the first relative assessment of artists to compare American and Japanese contemporary art history. She highlights how little literary work exists in intercultural discourse from East and West when performance art was getting revolutionized in that era. Over a half a century these trailblazers have produced much influential work yet have not been given the proper recognition. Kusama, Ono, and Kubota received recognition in the late 1980s from media exposure and international exhibitions, while Yoshimoto’s monographs first recognized Saito and Shiomi. This was the first considerable literature published on the two artists.
Unlike their male counterparts, women have been in a shortage delay of assessment of female artists from the 1960s and on. The lack of support for women groundbreaking contributions has been rather frustrating. The author argues that in the discussion of arts and academia we cannot ignore the issues of gender and race that come with the topic. It is essential to promote awareness of women inequalities. Yoshimoto raises the awareness of politics and performativities of gender and race. Yoshimoto states that when essentialism is utilized in connecting and analyzing single artists on the grounds of gender and race, it can be somewhat dangerous. Regarding essentialism, Kusama and Kubota, who are female artists, did not agree with feminist representations to the point where they fully rejected feminist work.
Yoshimoto explains the term performance, and other meanings J. L. Austin coined and later included Kristine Stiles and Judith Butler terms performative and performativities. Yoshimoto uses the word “performance art” which gained recognition in the late 70s, but Yoshimoto uses the term to reference a form that came about in the early twentieth century and later came back in the 60s. Yoshimoto includes the term intermedia resembling Fluxus Artist, Dick Higgins. Higgins unresolvable issues between art and life, with the idea that five artists worked to produce their own work to where they cannot be classified into one category. These new-found media allowed artists to be free from Japanese order and traditional art forms.
Yoshimoto describes in chapter one the five artists’ home, education, the social background that illustrate the similar issues they were faced. The artists came from a good education background, their parents were wealthy, and they had similar individualistic views. They did not accept submissive female attitudes in Japan, the Japanese art world and patriarchy where it fueled them to find their edge and creativeness. New York at the time exploded of New Music, Happenings, Fluxus, Pop Art, and Minimalism. These artists had freedom to create their art which included international performances using avant-garde art from New York and Tokyo. Their work played an important part in performance art and how it came about. Yet again, their work was not recognized from art colleagues when during the time were a majority of white male artists. The World War Two attack on Pearl Harbour gave way of the stereotype of Oriental misperception of passive women who slept made a statement for people to discriminate Japanese artists in America.
The Japanese women artists could create any art they desired, but due to patriarchal tendencies it stunted the women success. A male artist with that type of influence and creativity would gain more of a following just because he is a man. The art society was similar in America because only a few female artists would receive the recognition she deserved. Non-white artists are hardly thought as equal to their white male co-not-so-equals. The Japanese female artists have struggled with being stereotyped as foreigners or outsider in their homeland and the states through mainstream art. These artists turned these hardships into triumph by utilizing their bodies and their hardships to shake things up in what performance means to them in the art world. The artists share their views through objects like mirrors, water, portraits and video images. Being an outsider allows one to have a broader outlook of themselves and others.
This book offers insight not only to women but men as well. We can learn from this work. Yoshimoto set the stage and contributed to a much-needed narrative and re-evaluation of Japanese female artists. The five artists Yoshimoto discussed, and Yoshimoto included paved a path for not only for Asian women artists, but women artists as well. These women exercised her opinions on women rights in the two cultures as Yoshimoto explored the historical context of these artists discussed in her dissertation. Yoshimoto provided a structured outline of her work and argued very well her claims. These founding mothers were an inspiration to women and the art world. During the 60s having someone, a young Asian girl can look up to in the United States was little to none. I believe the artists discussed were somewhat inspiring”regardless of the lack of recognition they deserved. They were trailblazers that paved the path for women in the art world, and it was a definite win to have these women representing us women. How can we learn from the inequalities of a patriarchal society without the exclusion of sex, stereotypes, and race? How can we shift from prejudging outside extremities to rather than judging what kind of work an artist present to its viewers? Yoshimoto raises a good argument: one cannot ignore the issues of sex and race when discussing art and education.
Yoshimoto, Midori. Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. Rutgers University Press, 2005
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