masako asaba Women in Utamakura, 2014
Darya
12/21/2023
7 min
0

"I Want to Deliver Laughing Pictures": Masako Asaba and Her Homages to Shunga

12/21/2023
7 min
0

Masako Asaba is an artist who expresses her love for iconic Shunga oeuvres of Kuniyoshi, Harunobu, and especially for Utamaro’s Utamakura/Pillow book series through colorful pop art homages. She also incorporates her favorite masterpieces into the modern environment, resurrecting the abandoned erotic genre as an element of fashion and interior design. Entranced by the beautiful courtesans of the Edo period, Asaba wants to "connect the traditional Edo women with the modern post-Meiji women" to ensure the continuity of cultural achievements of local masters.

Masako Asaba at the exhibition in February 2023

Fig. 1. Masako Asaba at the exhibition in February 2023 (j-spirit-blg.jugem.jp)

 We Can Do it! by Masako Asaba

Fig. 2. Instagram.com

 masako asaba Homage to the Utamakura series by Utamaro

Fig. 3. Homage to the Utamakura series by Utamaro (Instagram.com)

 masako asaba Lovers

Fig. 4. Lovers (masakoasaba.com)

 masako asaba Lucky cat

Fig. 5. Lucky cat (masakoasaba.com)

Lucky Cat by masako asaba

Fig. 6. Lucky cat (masakoasaba.com)

masako asaba Time TravelFig. 7. Time Travel (masakoasaba.com)

 masako asaba Utamaro, Lovers behind umbrella

Fig. 8. Time Travel (masakoasaba.com); right: Utamaro, Lovers behind umbrella (artelino.com)

masako asaba Matrix

Fig. 9. Matrix (masakoasaba.com)

 masako asaba Black lodge

Fig. 10. Black lodge (masakoasaba.com)

masako asaba masako asaba Black lodge

Fig. 11. Love (Instagram.com)

 Utamaro, Eight Pledges at Lovers' Meetings (Ômi hakkei)

Fig. 11a. Utamaro, Eight Pledges at Lovers' Meetings (Ômi hakkei), ca. 1798 (ukiyo-e.org)

Geisha with a Time Machine

Masako Asaba received art training at the Joshibi University of Art and Design and, after graduating in 1982, continued her studies at KONSTFACK University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Sweden. Since the 1990s, Asaba has been exhibiting in Japan and, since the new millennium, abroad. Her first solo show happened at Ginza Surugadai Gallery in 1996. The recent solo exhibition was held at the Kobayashi Gallery in November 2023. Judging by the paintings presented on her website, Asaba started as a yoga (Western-style) painter, producing avant-garde canvases with a touch of cubism and fauvism, however, the art collector Fuyuhiko Yamamoto notes that she was also active as a nihonga (national style) artist.

Time Travel

The first paintings and collages referencing Shunga appeared in the 2010s. The enthusiasm for this genre was caused by the artist's experience of studying abroad, which allowed her to re-estimate the cultural legacy of Japan. In her works uploaded to the Instagram account thinking_geisha, Asaba focuses on Shunga from a woman's perspective (the Women in Utamakura series) or modernizes the ukiyo-e aesthetics (the Time Travel series). The pictures, featuring lines and squares, may seem digitally produced, yet the abstract pattern is made of stripes of Japanese paper, which adds a touch of tradition to the pop art approach.

masako asaba Women in Utamakura, 2014

Fig. 12. Women in Utamakura, 2014 (masakoasaba.com)

 masako asaba after Utamaro

Fig. 13. Women in Utamakura, 2014 (masakoasaba.com)

 after Utamaro masako asaba

Fig. 14. Women in Utamakura, 2014 (masakoasaba.com)

 masako asaba shunga

Fig. 15. Utamaro lovers and beckoning cat (instagram.com)

 masako asaba  Utamaro lovers and beckoning cat

Fig. 16. Utamaro lovers and beckoning cat (instagram.com)

 masako asaba Flower pot with Utamaro

Fig. 17. Flower pot with Utamaro (Instagram.com)

 masako asaba  Flower pot with Utamaro II

Fig. 18. Flower pot with Utamaro II (Instagram.com)

 Porcelain bowl with erotic motifs attrib. to Kuniyoshi, probably an inspiration for Asaba’s shunga pots

Fig. 19. Porcelain bowl with erotic motifs attrib. to Kuniyoshi, probably an inspiration for Asaba’s shunga pots (for the complete series click AkAntiek.nl)

masako asaba Camellia with a red painted pot of Utamakura

Fig. 19a. Camellia with a red painted pot of Utamakura (Instagram.com)

 masako asaba Harunobu pot

Fig. 19b. Harunobu pot (instagram.com)

masako asaba Jihei pot

Fig. 19c. Jihei pot (instagram.com); right: Sugimura Jihei, ca.1690s (instagram.com)

masako asaba Red Color Pot with a Happyberry tree

Fig. 19d. Red Color Pot with a Happyberry tree; right: Lovers by Hishikawa Morofusa, ca 1690s (Instagram.com)

masako asaba Jihei’s red pot with cherry blossoms

Fig. 19e. Jihei’s red pot with cherry blossoms (Instagram.com)

masako asaba Fruit tree (Instagram.com); right: Harunobu, smoking courtesan with a horny client

Fig. 19f. Fruit tree (Instagram.com); right: Harunobu, smoking courtesan with a horny client (miwajapaneseart.com)

 masako asaba Spring night pot

Fig. 19g. Spring night pot (Instagram.com); right: design by Kuniyoshi, detail

masako asaba Dragon pot with Omoto

Fig. 19h. Dragon pot with Omoto. “Omoto has been a beloved indoor foliage plant in Japanese since the Edo period. And it’s considered very auspicious” (Masako Asaba on Instagram.com); right: Utamaro, Negal no Itoguchi / The Prelude to Desire, 1799 (Yandex.ru)

 masako asaba Spring Night Pot Utamakura

Fig. 19i. Spring Night Pot Utamakura (instagram.com)

In the Premium version of the article you can find, among other things, .how she incorporates warai-e (another name for shunga) in her art, how she evokes the aesthetic pleasure of the viewer, more on the great influence of Utamaro's erotica on her, why she loves shunga and similates it, and 62 additional amusing images of her amusing artwork including its original sources.

More of Masako's ukiyo-e can be found on the following page

Click HERE for Hokusai-obsessed Octopussy series by Trần Trung Lĩnh

Sources: masakoasaba.com; instagram.com/thinking_geisha/; Wikipedia.org

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