AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 337

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Session 337: The Past is Present: Reflections of Ancient Traditions in Modern Asian Art

Organizer: Deborah A. Deacon, Harrison Middleton University, USA

Discussant: Deborah A. Deacon, Harrison Middleton University, USA

Traditionally Asian art has been portrayed as being eternal, static and nationalistic, unaffected by outside influences or internal development. This view began to change in the waning years of the 20th century as scholars who embraced the larger vision offered under the umbrella of culture studies revealed that, while such traditions often endured for centuries, in other cases they were discarded in favor of imported artistic styles and technological advancements, only to be rejected in favor of traditional styles during times of social and cultural upheaval. Reaching back in time to traditional heroes, iconography and artistic practices provided a sense of identity and community during times of uncertainty. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the scholars on this panel examine key issues of memory, identity and modernity in Asian visual culture by exploring ways in which artists have crossed the border between past and present, internal and external, to construct works of art that reflect new visions of Asian art. Each scholar investigates the use of ancient traditions, modified by more modern materials, influences and needs, to craft unique identities for either an individual artist or a larger, and in some cases, global, community. In so doing, these artists have redefined Asian visual culture and its importance for national and global identity.

Rematerializing Buddha Bhakti: Religious Competition and Sinhala Buddhist Religious Identity in the Late Colonial Period
Sherry A Harlacher, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

This paper examines a variety of textual practices that unified the Sinhala Buddhist community during two historical periods of foreign intrusion and religious competition: first following the Chola conquest in the tenth century and again in the eighteenth and nineteenth century when the island was controlled by British colonial interests. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Sinhala Buddhist authors began to compose devotional literature in the vernacular to counter the growing appeal of imported Hindu bhakti. By focusing on various aspects of the Buddha’s biography and his own path to spiritual awakening, this literature provided lay disciples not only practical religious instruction, but also encouraged an unprecedented degree of participation in religious life. Material culture in the form of palm leaf manuscripts dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth century confirms late colonial Sinhala Buddhists continued to align themselves with literature that supported Buddha bhakti. Distinct literary preferences are confirmed in the manner in which manuscripts devoted to medieval prose literature and copies of the Buddha’s canonical sermons in Pāli were embellished more often than any other religious literary genres. The binding boards that serve as protective covers for these either employ costly materials, such as ivory, ebony and semi-precious stones, or elaborate paintings featuring Buddhist narratives. These physical traces provide striking evidence of the long-life and resiliency of the rhetorical practices that structured and consolidated Sinhala Buddhist religious identity in face of religious competition.

Reimagining Ono no Komachi in Edo Japan
Joni M. Koehn, Independent Scholar, USA

Heian women, restricted by the codes of court life, remained hidden from view with, by some accounts, limited mobility. They established their identity through indirect means – a glimpse of a sleeve, the incense of their robes – but primarily through written exchanges with both women and men. . Many literary figures regarded as well-known, accomplished women lived during the Heian era. The poems of Ono no Komachi, one of the six major poets, remain the only tangible evidence of the identity she established in her lifetime. These and a brief note regarding her poetic ability by Ki no Tsurayuki in the preface to the Kōkin Wakashū generated centuries of literary and visual depictions of Komachi and a wealth of interpretations of her personal identity. Multiple sources contributed to constructed identities of Ono no Komachi, including the Komachi-shū, an anthology of poems written by other authors and originally ascribed to Komachi. Diaries and stories recorded a hundred years after her death formed the basis for nō plays in the 15th century. Nine hundred years after her life, the nana komachi woodblocks depicted the various identities of the historical woman. Contemporary interpretations perpetuate and enhance the interpretations of Komachi. The identities created on the basis of Komachi’s poetry form an arc over time, which, when contextualized and situated firmly in the eras in which they were created, reveal the mechanics of identity creation.

Female Warriors and Foreign Women: Female Equestrian Prints in Edo
Shiloh Blair, Arizona State University, USA

In the mid-nineteenth century Japan opened its doors to the West. Following this important historical event, a type of print known as the Yokohama-e began to be produced in mass quantities. Unique to these prints were images of foreigners, meant in some ways to visually define the new peoples suddenly entering Japan. A few Yokohama-e depicted foreign women on horseback, a shocking sight to a population used to seeing only samurai riding. At approximately the same time, images of two famous and semi-legendary female warriors, Han-Gaku and Tomoe Gozen, were also depicted on horseback in the more traditional Ukiyo-e prints. I propose to examine the ties between images of foreign women and female warriors as depicted on horseback, and the implications of both of these groups of women being identified among “the other” and the attempts to define and understand them through the medium of the print.

Collaboration Condition: Takashi Murakami's Impact on the East/West Binary
Cindy Lisica, University of the Arts London, USA

Takashi Murakami is currently the most popular Japanese artist on the contemporary art scene both in Japan and abroad. In the last decade, Murakami famously collaborated with fashion designer Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, introduced a biannual art fair in Tokyo (GEISAI) and established a company producing art and merchandise by multiple artists (Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd.). He has established an explicit strategy to gain success by selling his work in the US and European art markets and has been credited with a new reading of Pop art that defies the traditional binary division between East and West. Murakami's Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art (2000) presents his art practice as a cultural concept born from the original expressions of anime and manga inherited from the Edo period. By constructing a lineage to the past, Murakami engages in an ongoing historical process establishing his work as a carefully selected Japanese export to the West and questioning the socially and academically constructed definitions of art. In this way, his curatorial endeavors become a historicist revival by which he is "curating Japaneseness." (Weisenfield 2007, 183) In a globalised art world, contemporary conditions require an expanded examination of the crossovers between such binary divisions as East and West, and Murakami's production processes demonstrate a renewed challenge to the privileges and hierarchies within Western art history. However, by emphasizing the cultural uniqueness of Superflat and "commodifying" Japanese identity, Murakami becomes vulnerable to criticism that he is merely providing an Orientalist spectacle for Western audiences.

Modern Traditions: The Art of Chan Shengyao Modern Traditions: The Art of Chan Shengyao Modern Traditions: The ARt of Chan Shengyo
Jacqueline J. Chao, Art Institute of Chicago, USA

This paper presents a study the art and artistic philosophy of contemporary Chinese artist Chan Shengyao, otherwise known as Stephen Chan. Born in 1958 in Taipei, Taiwan, Chan has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout North America and Asia. Chan’s artworks, which range from sketches to ink paintings and large-scale sculptural installations, explore the ways in which Chan synthesizes traditional and modern ideas while still conveying his unique artistic style and expression. Through his artwork and poetry, Chan clearly articulates his ideas and artistic philosophy, demonstrating a depth of Chinese cultural and historical knowledge that is rarely referenced in contemporary Chinese art. Heavily influenced by Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian philosophy, Chan’s art and artistic philosophies are an exploration of the power of creativity and imagination within nature. In particular, Chan takes great inspiration from the Buddhist patriarch Huineng’s concept of spontaneous enlightenment as advocated in Chan or Zen Buddhism. Chan Shengyao references Huineng’s philosophical concepts when advocating the idea of an existing “Nature” or mother matrix which underlies all artistic creation and production. In reinterpreting classical Chinese philosophies of the past, Chan defines a new artistic vision for the present.