SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar's exhibition on Japanese erotic art inspires top fashion designer

5 October 2016
Sex art in Japan: perspectives on shunga
Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), detail taken from Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), c. 1785.

An exhibition co-curated by Professor Andrew Gerstle, Professor of Japanese Studies, SOAS University of London and Leverhulme Research Fellow Dr Akiko Yano, along with Timothy Clark of the British Museum has inspired a new line of clothing by Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Professor Andrew Gerstle, at SOAS, University of London, along with Leverhulme Research Fellow Dr Akiko Yano (now a curator at the British Museum), has co-curated the most comprehensive exhibition to date on Japanese traditional erotic art and literature, known as shunga in Japanese. This is the result of a four-year Leverhulme funded project in collaboration with the British Museum and two Japanese universities. The exhibition catalogue, with over 30 contributors, is 536 pages in full colour.

Professor Gerstle co-curated ‘Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art’ which took place at the British Museum, London from October 2013 – January 2014. It was the most comprehensive display - to date - on Japanese traditional erotic art and literature, known as shunga in Japanese. The exhibition, and its follow up exhibitions in Tokyo and Kyoto in 2015-16, has inspired the new ‘Haru’ collection from Homme Plisse Issey Miyake who credits the influence of the 2013 exhibition in understanding the significance of this art form.

The exhibition had around 90,000 visitors and was the result of a four-year Leverhulme funded project in collaboration with the British Museum and two Japanese universities. The project set out to restore the cultural status of Shunga after its ban from the late 19th Century to the present day.

The project, which has now concluded, had a major impact in Japan through two highly-acclaimed exhibitions in Tokyo and Kyoto, with almost 300,000 visitors in total. From being seen as a form of low-grade pornography, Shunga is now widely understood as a significant art form depicting mutual sexual pleasure, and the interaction of sex and humour in daily life.

The project involved collaboration with Timothy Clark at the British Museum and more than thirty top scholars from Europe, Asia and North America. It has led to numerous publications, including a monograph in Japanese by Gerstle (2011), the British Museum catalogue (2013, 500+ pages, 8000 initial run, now in its third printing), its Japanese translation (2015), and the acclaimed British Museum exhibition in 2013-14. The Japanese catalogue that accompanied the two shunga exhibitions in Japan won the ‘Tokyo Governor’s Prize’ for book design, announced in September of this year.

SOAS University of London has also been shortlisted for ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2016 for the project on Shunga.