Souzou: Japanese Outsider Art

From the people that brought you the shocking and revealing Death, Superhuman, Dirt, and Brains, comes Souzou: Japanese Outsider Art.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Collection of the artist Photograph (c) Nobuo ONISHI

The Wellcome Collection continues its leftfield vision with a showcase of marginalised Japanese artists from Honshu, (the largest of Japan’s islands) all left out of the mainstream focus because of some kind of social exclusion.

Souzou, which has no direct translation to English, has a dual meaning in Japanese – either creation or imagination.

The word lends its name to The Wellcome Collection’s take on 300 works by 46 artists, and touches on ceramic, textile, painting, sculpture and drawing.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Private Collection, image © Wellcome Library, London

Shinichi Sawada, Untitled

 The exhibition has been designed in-house by Jane Holmes, with graphic design by Martin McGrath Studio.

An object-led, curatorial approach has been taken to the work of the artists, who are often self-taught, and offers singular visions of culture, memory and creativity.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Shiga Prefecture, image © Wellcome Library, London

Ryosuke Otsuji, Okinawan Lion

Visitors will explore six overlapping themed zones, starting with Language, a verbal or written challenge of expression for some artists.

The section includes Takanori Herai’s diary of hieroglyphics and Toshiko Yamanishi’s love letters to her mother, which express emotion through movement and colour rather then words.

Engagement with material is presented in Making, a look at the repeated use of unusual media and canvas, as well as the meditative and therapeutic aspects of creativity.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Collection of the artist. Photograph (c) Satoshi Takaishi

Textile landscapes by Yumiko Kawais are built up through repeated freehand circular stitching and Shota Katsube’s repurposing of wire ties sees a vast army of miniature figures created; both projects are characterised by the occupation and passing of time.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Social welfare coporation Yamanami, Atelier Yamanami. Photograph (c) Satoshi Takaishi

Yumiko Kawai, Circles

Representation and Relationships observe the environment surrounding artists. For Takanari Nitta this means abstract assemblages of everyday objects composed to give off a sense of otherworldly eeriness, or Satoshi Nishikawa sculptures of fruit made of dense aggregates of small ceramic rabbits.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance
Satoshi Nishikawa, Apple of Rabbits

Meanwhile Sakiko Kono’s dolls represent friends and carers in the facility where she lives, and the size or stature they are cast in is determined by the level of affection she felt for them at the time. 

Shota Katsube, Untitled
Sakiko Kono, Life Size Collection of the artist.

The Culture section attempts to debunk the myth that Outsider Art might only be reflective of the introspective mind. Instead reflection and observation are explored through the likes of Daisuke Kibushi’s postwar movie posters copied from memory, Keisuke Ishino’s origami figurines and Ryosuke Otsuji’s ceramic Okinawan lions, which all attest to a sharp awareness of the cultural contexts and traditions of Japanese society.

Yumiko Kawai, Circles

Source: Collection of the artist. Photograph (c) Satoshi Takaishi

Daisuke Kibushi, Midori Harukani

Reaching beyond, well, everything, is Possibility, a section devoted to reordering the surrounding world. This lofty conclusion takes in the likes of Koichiro Miya’s examination of ability, disability, and superability through statistics, and Shingo Ikeda’s notebook infographics on the subway journeys he hasn’t yet taken.

Marie Suzuki, Disturbance

Source: Collection of the artist. Photograph (c) Satoshi Takaishi

Koichiro Miya, Evolution of Time (Epoch of IQ 200)

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan runs from 28 March to 30 June at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1

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