Nichibunken News

The report of the JAPAN SUPERNATURAL exhibition in Sydney

The Japan supernatural exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney closed on 8 March 2020 after a display of 4 months. The exhibition was extremely well attended with approximately half of all visitors under the age of 35. 
Melanie Eastburn, senior curator of Asian art, and assistant curator Yuki Kawakami visited us at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in April 2019 to view some of our collection of yōkai images and we discussed a wide variety of Japanese supernatural entities. The catalogue of the exhibition includes numerous images from the Nichibunken collection and several essays, one of which, “From the past into the future: the enduring legacy of yōkai”, was written by the director of the center, Prof. Komatsu Kazuhiko.
The entrance to Japan supernatural was decorated with Japanese paper lanterns from Kyoto and on the wall of the corridor were shadowy silhouettes of supernatural characters derived from yōkai pictures supplied by Nichibunken. This corridor of yōkai and lanterns attracted people into the exhibition.
At the beginning of the exhibition were masks of noh and kyogen drama as well as picture scrolls of the Hyakki yagyo, the Night procession of the hundred demons. A large touch wall was used to animate characters from the night procession. Hitodama flame symbols marked the area to touch to make yōkai appear alongside their names in English and Japanese. Characters were identified through research assisted by Nichibunken and the touch wall provided a lively introduction to some of Japan’s yōkai, especial tsukumogami object spirits. 
The exhibition included many artworks by Edo artists like Sekien, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi and Kyōsai from various museums outside of Japan. Through these works we were able to gain insight into the rich history of yōkai. An outstanding aspect of the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was that Takashi Murakami was commissioned to make a special artwork. His painting connects the supernatural entities of the past and today in a very powerful way.
During the exhibition, there were relevant activities such as performances of the Hyakki yagyo, a Studio Ghibli film festival, live music, and talks on aspects of the supernatural in Japanese art. I presented a talk on yōkai and women in the lead up to International Women’s Day on 8 March.  
This visit and research activities were supported by the Edmund Capon Fellowship at the Art Gallery of NSW.

(YASUI Manami, Professor of Nichibunken)
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, SydneyArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • Advertising wall, Japan supernaturalAdvertising wall, Japan supernatural
  • Entrance corridor with yōkai, Japan supernaturalEntrance corridor with yōkai, Japan supernatural
  • Touch wall, Japan supernaturalTouch wall, Japan supernatural
  • Visitors viewing Takashi Murakami’s paintingVisitors viewing Takashi Murakami’s painting
  • Presentation for Gallery benefactors, Yasui Manami and Melanie EastburnPresentation for Gallery benefactors, Yasui Manami and Melanie Eastburn
  • Becoming yōkai lecture, Yasui Manami, AGNSW, 4 March 2020Becoming yōkai lecture, Yasui Manami, AGNSW, 4 March 2020
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