UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mariko Mori and Takashi Murakami and the crisis of Japanese identity Lambertson, Kristen


In the mid-1990s, Japanese artists Mariko Mori (b. 1962) and Takashi Murakami (b. 1967) began creating works that referenced Japanese popular culture tropes such as sexuality, technology and the idea of kawaii, or cute. These tropes were associated with emerging youth cultures instigating a “soft rebellion” against social conventions. While emancipated female youths, or shōjo, were criticized for lifestyles based on the consumption of kawaii goods, their male contemporaries, the otaku were demonized for a fetishization of kawaii girls and technology through anime and manga, or animation and comic books. Destabilizing the nation’s patriarchal theory of cultural uniqueness, or nihonjinron, the youth triggered fears of a growing infantilized, feminized automaton ‘alien’ society during Japan’s economically tumultuous 1990s. In response to these trends, Mori and Murakami create works and personae that celebrate Japan’s emerging heterogeneity and reveal that Japan’s fear of the ‘alien within’ is a result of a tenuous post-war Japanese-American relationship. But in denoting America’s position in Japan’s psyche, Mori’s and Murakami’s illustration of Japan as both victim and threat encourages Orientalist and Techno-Orientalist readings. The artists’ ambivalence towards Western stereotypes in their works and personae, as well as their distortion of boundaries between commercial and fine art, intimate a collusion between commercialization, art and cultural identity. Such acts suggest that in the global economy of art production, Japanese cultural identity has become as much as a brand, as art a commodity. In this ambivalent perspective, the artists isolate the relatively recent difficulty of enunciating Japanese cultural identity in the international framework. With the downfall of its cultural homogeneity theory, Japan faced a crisis of representation. Self-Orientalization emerged as a cultural imperative for stabilizing a coherent national identity, transposing blame for Japan’s social and economic disrepair onto America. But by relocating Japanese self-Orientalization within the global art market, Mori and Murakami suggest that as non-Western artists, economic viability is based upon their ability to cultivate desirability, not necessarily authenticity. In the international realm, national identity has become a brand based upon the economies of desire, predicated by external consumption, rather than an internalized production of meaning.

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