Shunga

At The British Museum
As the final day was looming, we had to act fast.  So we three jumped into the car early last Sunday morning, found a super convenient single yellow line park in Russell Square and walked briskly (it was cold, though bright) to join the throng of happy tourists at the Capital B for Breath-taking British Museum.

From the outset, I promise my interest in this particular exhibition was not completely spurred by the wording ‘sex and pleasure’ jammed into the title, rather that Japanese art, textiles, food, way of existing, is something I’m currently experiencing above average levels of interest in.

To put you in the space, the initial summary of the exhibit ‘Shunga…it challenges us to reconsider the mutually exclusive categories of ‘art’ versus ‘pornography’ that evolved in the west’ pretty much covers what’s in the show. And dear reader, I carried out a lot of considering whilst wandering through.

Firstly, was it wise that I brought my 13 year son along, would he be the envy of the playground or damaged for life?

Secondly, have I become a little uptight in my old age?

Thirdly, do women really fantasise about having octapuses attached to their lower parts?

Don’t get me wrong. I thought this exhibition was ambitious, worth the trip, eye-opening and great for conversation during and post our visit. It also provided me with ample food for thought about my tastes and feelings about ‘pornography’ specifically. Ready for it…I’m a less is more kind of girl and I don’t mean less clothing, but go light on the visuals. The below example typifies it nicely. This is an incredibly beautiful display of physical (and maybe emotional) feeling, produced in 1788 by Kitagawa Utamaro, which starts you on your journey through the exhibition.

Poem of the Pillow

 

It’s sensual, you don’t need to see their faces, or their bits, just the way the fabrics fall, the curve of her body and the way she holds his face -it’s enough to suggest that these two are having a fairly nice time in each other’s company. Happily also for me, this was one of the very few pictures that was safe enough to make it to exhibition merchandising.

A couple of other treats throughout included the Shunga parody section – with my personal favourites being a couple of educational books for women; a see-through picture postcard (1905), which could easily make it past the censors out to the frontline troops; and a Kabuki costume for a princess role (think spectacular reds, threads and robe).

And another treat – it was a really good spot to do some people watching.  Some parts of the crowd would hide their fear in disinterest, whilst others – particularly a few little old ladies spent perhaps too long transfixed by an act dressed as art. You can imagine this was excellent activity in itself.

The exhibition closes 5 January 2014

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