Friday, 4 October 2013


Under the Kimono
Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art Exhibition.

It isn't rare for hentai, yaoi, and yuri to be displayed on the shelves in bookshops that sell manga. Many like the large eyes, small mouths and sexy poses associated with the art form, and recently Japan's early art is being exhibited in London this week.

Japan has for years been associated with its technology, anime and manga but it's not very often that we get to see the kind of art from two hundred years ago displayed on the walls of the British Museum.

Though these works of art were banned in Japan during part of the twentieth century, this exhibition has the support of Shunga in Japan LLC, so they must be somewhat proud of their sexual heritage nowadays. There are over a hundred pieces on display and feature stylised images of men and women in and out of their clothes. The art is elaborate, and beautiful with both woman and men exhibiting large and complex hairdos, but it isn't the way they dress or wear their hair that's important, it's what they are shown doing that originally caused a scandal back in the day. Imagine various prints showing two women using sex toys, a Buddhist monk and a young man on a futon and men making out with geisha girls using exaggerated looking phalluses.

This type of art went far to inspire many of the world's leading artists of the time, Beardsley, Picasso, Rodin, and Toulouse-Lautrec with shunga meaning 'spring pictures.' Back in 1600, such artists as Utamaro, Hokusai and Kunisada would have painted these pictures of sexual pleasure in all their forms for the upper classes in Japanese society, bearing in mind that these would have been hung up in homes all over Japan, or hidden away from view for private titillation. After years of being banned, the British Museum has had the chance to exhibit them with the question of is it art or pornography? You decide.

The exhibition is on from 3 October 2013 – 5 January 2014 at The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG.

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