Beyond Common Sense: Some Strategies Of Toshio Saeki To Deal With Censorship
Any form of censorship is pernicious, relentless, and almost always results in the artist's silence through ideological gags in the form of what they can or cannot say. Some theorists believe that censorship is a practice restricted only to totalitarian states, such as North Korea or Venezuela, forgetting that it is also present in democracies like the United States where, to avoid violating the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech to all citizens, censorship is executed by non-governmental institutions. One can recall The Hays Code and The Comics Code Authority, which determined what could or could not be shown in films or comics.
Currently, platforms like Instagram also perpetuate censorship by judging and prohibiting certain images considered offensive unless they are adjusted to fit the parameters defined by their administrators. A notable case was a print by Toshio Saeki from the set of 16 self-published illustrations (fig. 01), which, when posted by the art_of_toshio_saeki profile on Instagram, was banned. The account owners' alternative was to delete from the image what was possibly causing discomfort: a girl being violated by her grandfather while the grandmother holds her, and her brother waves the flag of Japan (fig. 02). Toshio Saeki's print clearly does not advocate pedophilia; on the contrary, it condemns it, pointing to the fact that this crime is often committed by family members in the shadow of a nation that merely observes.
By erasing what could be "wrong" in the image, the art_of_toshio_saeki profile used a tactic also employed by Toshio Saeki to circumvent censorship in his own country, Japan, which prohibits the display and representation of male and female genitalia. In "Red Box" ("Akai hako"), published in 1972, Toshio Saeki explores the absence of body parts as a way to circumvent censorship in the first two prints. In the first (fig. 03), we see a girl whose sex and parts of the legs are absent. In the second (fig. 04), a woman, whose breasts and sex are not drawn, has her neck bitten by a headless figure with incomplete features.
With his incomplete figures, Toshio Saeki not only avoids problems with censorship but also directs our attention to facial expressions, which may become even more dramatic than if the bodies had been fully drawn.
In a drawing from the anthology "Yume Nozoki", Toshio Saeki employs this technique by depicting a young woman tied up in a dungeon performing oral sex on an invisible man (fig. 05). If Japanese law prohibits the display of male or female genitalia, the Japanese master makes us laugh at it by showing what cannot be seen through the facial expressions of the young woman and details like saliva dripping from her mouth and the lowered pants of the invisible man.
In this sense, Toshio Saeki relies on a procedure similar to anatomical fragmentation, a technique often used in shunga: "Fragmentation moves in the opposite direction of the clear display of genitals, taking advantage of the most diverse objects in the scene to multiply visual accesses to these fractional areas or, on the contrary, hides them to stimulate the fantasy of the viewer who has to complete 'what is missing'" (RODRÍGUEZ, Amaury A. García. Desire and representation in Japanese erotic prints Shunga. Estudos Japoneses, n. 28. São Paulo: 2008, p. 6).
In the extended Premium edition you can find many more examples of Saeki's strategy to circumvent censorship, the influence of shunga art on censorship and his work, and many more images.
Click HERE for an article on the absurd erotism in Saeki's book Fièvres Nocturne