Of Magical Creatures, Monsters & Ghosts
Myths and legends in Japanese colour woodcuts from the 18th and 19th century
The fantastic realm of magical creatures, monsters and ghosts is featured much more extensively and theatrically in Japanese colour woodcuts from the 18th and 19th century than in Western art. The Japanese myth of ghosts is similar to our concept: People who suffered harm, injustice or violence during their lifetime won’t find peace in death, haunting their tormentors as ghosts. Furthermore, many Japanese ghosts are incarnations of natural elements: Mountains and waters, snow and wind, animals, plants, and even tools become animated beings (BAKEMONO or HENGE), who have the ability to confuse and even kill people. The YOKAI, chimerical monsters, are mostly summoned in uncanny places. Even until this day, the belief in the existence of ghostly spirits and rituals of appeasement are an inherent part of Shinto, the traditional religion in Japan. As a result of an increase in book production during the Edo period (1603-1868), Japanese colour woodcuts became the primary medium for artistic expression. Portraits of actors and scenes from KABUKI theatre were particularly popular. In the 19th century, the KABUKI repertoire featured the thrilling and sometimes familiar ghost stories. The theatrical finesse of KABUKI, which incorporated revolving stages, quick costume changes, candle light effects and invisible stagehands, was a suitable framework for eerie dramaturgy and the presentation of transcendental beings. Since the colour woodcuts reproduced the KABUKI scenes on a high technical and artistic level, the ghost myths presented in this medium became popular works of art that were often bought as souvenirs. The magical creatures’ appearance unleashed both the director‘s and the wood block artist‘s creative fantasy, which is where the relatedness to modern Japanese comic strips (MANGA) and animated films (ANIME) becomes particularly evident.
The exhibition is curated by Hannspeter Kunz, Sigmaringen.