Shiraga Kazuo: The Hero and Concrete Violence

Heimbold Visual Arts Center Donnelley Film Theatre

Open to the public

/ Wednesday


A lecture by Namiko Kunimoto, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University

Shiraga Kazuo’s (1924-2008) paintings and performance works, often filled with crimson reds, radiating circular forms, and aggressive acts of exhibitionism, resonate with issues of nationhood portrayed through a language of visual violence and gendered physical spectacle. The Kansai-based artist’s shifting self-stylization relied on pre-existing tropes of masculinity as a backdrop for his destructive actions. For Challenging Mud, he cropped his hair "like a GI" and threw himself in the mud with deliberate force, lacerating his skin. While performing Dōzo, he became a bare-chested, ax-wielding woodsman with a masochistic bent, bringing down the structure that was sheltering him.

As the gendered figures of the American soldier and the American Abstract Expressionist loomed large, Shiraga’s deployment of a multiplicity of masculine tropes undid the notion of a fixed masculine ideal. Yet his insistent embodiment of these archetypes also called attention to, and perhaps advanced, their power. For Shiraga, Namiko Kunimoto argues, the specter of violence was a means to present art that both defined and risked the modern subject in postwar Japan. His allusions to premodern masculine tropes articulated through avant-garde artistic strategies illuminate his complex negotiation of gender and nationalism. Throughout his oeuvre, his body was consistently deployed as a force in itself, unleashed against his artistic medium, often risking himself in the process. Thus, his work can be seen to function as a theoretical treatise that argues for violence as art.

Namiko Kunimoto is a specialist in modern and contemporary Japanese art, with research interests in gender, race, urbanization, photography, visual culture, performance art, transnationalism, and nation formation. Her essays include "Olympic Dissent: Art, Politics, and the Tokyo Games" in Asia Pacific Japan Focus, and "Tactics and Strategies: Chen Qiulin and the Production of Space" and "Tanaka Atsuko and the Circuits of Subjectivity" in Art Bulletin. Dr. Kunimoto’s awards include a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellowship, Japan Foundation Fellowships (2007 and 2016), a College Art Association Millard/Meiss Author Award, and the OSU Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching (2018). She has been a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and is the Vice President of the Japanese Art History Forum. Her book, The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art, was published in February 2017 by the University of Minnesota Press.

Sponsored by the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation