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Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’ Ocula Conversation Bani Abidi: ‘What you see in my films is what I know’

A group of voices accompanies me in the exhibition. They are singing words I cannot comprehend, yet the warm tunes are familiar: folk songs, love songs, songs of longing. There are letters, too. They speak of the quotidian details of a soldier's life: the hardness of the war, sending money to the family, and longing for familiar landscapes, food,...

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Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future Ocula Report Aichi to Okayama: Art in Japan Looks to the Future 11 Oct 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...

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Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum Ocula Insight | Video Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum 16 August 2019

Mark Bradford walks through Mark Bradford: Los Angeles Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with...

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Yasumasa Morimura

b. 1951, Japan

Yasumasa Morimura (森村 泰昌) is known for his photographic self-portraits in which he either disguises himself as iconic figures from popular Western culture or uses digital tools to superimpose his own likeness into art-historical images. Using elaborate staging, props, costumes, make-up and prosthetics to embody well-known and usually female characters, Morimura not only challenges cultural and gender stereotypes and traditional notions of beauty, but also satirises celebrity, portraiture and idolisation.

Morimura graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978 and started exhibiting in the early 1980s. His early hybrid self-portraits include the widely acclaimed Portrait (Van Gogh) (1985)—a brightly coloured photograph of Morimura as Van Gogh with a bandaged ear, smoking a pipe.

Since then, he has constructed at least 300 self-portraits and has embodied art historical figures including the Mona Lisa (Mona Lisa in its Origin [1998]), Frida Kahlo (An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo [Collar of Thorns] [2001]), all the characters of Velázquez's Las Meninas (1656) (In Praise of Velázquez: distinguished ones in confinement [2013]) and Pablo Picasso (A Requiem: Theatre of Creativity/Self-portrait as Pablo Picasso [2010]), as well as political figures such as Ché Guevara, Adolf Hitler and Chairman Mao. He also has convincingly impersonated numerous leading ladies from the silver screen, including Audrey Hepburn (Self-Portrait/After Audrey Hepburn 1 [1996]), Ingrid Bergman (Self-Portrait/After Ingrid Bergman [1996]), Marilyn Monroe (Self Portrait no. 56 [After Marilyn Monroe] [1995]), and Greta Garbo (Self-Portrait—After Greta Garbo 1 [1996]), demonstrating just how malleable identity can be.

Morimura's images also subtly subvert the male gaze. In Vermeer Study: Looking Back (Mirror) (2008), Morimura presents himself in place of The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), dressed as a gender-ambiguous model and—as the title suggests—using the opportunity to upset the standard narrative of the male artist observing a female subject. In Mona Lisa In Its Pregnancy (1998), Morimura not only refers to the famous smiling lady as gender-neutral, but creates a physical hybrid of the sexes by transposing his angular face and muscular arms onto a woman's naked torso with swollen breasts and a heavily pregnant stomach.

Despite being criticised as little more than humorous imitations, Morimura's images take complex historical Western references and retell them from an Asian perspective, often incorporating traditional Japanese detailing within the compositions. For example, in Portrait (Futago) (1988), Morimura presents himself as Manet's famous Olympia (1863), reclining nude on a traditional kimono next to a maneki-neko cat figure, and wearing a blonde version of a Geisha headdress. In doing so, he takes the mystery, desire and allure underlying the original and presents his own alternative, encouraging the viewer to reflect on the ideas of beauty and desire within the Western art canon and consciousness.

Morimura's work is held in both private and public art collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Selected exhibitions include Criticism and the Lover, Mohly Gallery, Osaka (1989); Daughter of Art History, Sagacho Exhibit Space, Tokyo (1990); Options 44, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1992); The Sickness Unto Beauty—Self-portrait as Actress, Yokohama Museum of Art (1996); Self-Portrait as Art History, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (1998); Self-Portraits: An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo, Luhring Augustine, New York (2001); My Life through a Looking-Glass, Reflex Amsterdam (2007); Theatre of the Self, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2013); In the Room of Art History, Luhring Augustine, Brooklyn (2018); and Ego Obscura, Japan Society, New York (2018).

Morimura lives and works in Osaka.

Biography by Genista Jurgens | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

Greta Garbo 3 by Yasumasa Morimura contemporary artwork
Yasumasa MorimuraGreta Garbo 3, 1995 Polaroid
10.2 x 12.7 cm
Reflex Amsterdam
Yasumasa by Yasumasa Morimura contemporary artwork
Yasumasa MorimuraYasumasa, 2007 Diffusion transfer print
10.5 x 14.5 cm
ShugoArts
Self Portrait (Myself as a Stage) by Yasumasa Morimura contemporary artwork
Yasumasa MorimuraSelf Portrait (Myself as a Stage), 2002-2003 Chromogenic print
60 x 240 cm
ShugoArts
A Little Requiem: Where is the Dictator? 2, B/W by Yasumasa Morimura contemporary artwork
Yasumasa MorimuraA Little Requiem: Where is the Dictator? 2, B/W, 2007 Diffusion transfer print
14.5 x 10.5 cm
ShugoArts
White Darkness by Yasumasa Morimura contemporary artwork
Yasumasa MorimuraWhite Darkness, 1994 Gelatin silver print
60 x 43 cm
ShugoArts

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Yasumasa Morimura, My Chronicle 1985–2018 |「私」の年代記 1985〜2018 at ShugoArts, Tokyo
Closed
20 October–24 November 2018 Yasumasa Morimura My Chronicle 1985–2018 |「私」の年代記 1985〜2018 ShugoArts, Tokyo
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Beauty of Darkness II at Reflex Amsterdam, Amsterdam
Closed
21 June–4 August 2014 Group Exhibition Beauty of Darkness II Reflex Amsterdam

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Asia Contemporary Art Week: Diary #5: 11–17 October 2018 Ocula Insight
In collaboration with Asia Contemporary Art Week
Asia Contemporary Art Week: Diary #5: 11–17 October 2018 2 November 2018

Far from slowing down, the sixth week of Asia Contemporary Art Week continues to explore and unravel the rich possibilities of 'thinking collections', bringing together a variety of artists, filmmakers, and institutions in transnational and cross-disciplinary dialogue. Together, 'Asian-ness' is not deployed as a homogenising concept, but rather an...

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Yokohama Triennale 2014 'Art Fahrenheit 451: Sailing Into The Sea Of Oblivion' Ocula Report Yokohama Triennale 2014 'Art Fahrenheit 451: Sailing Into The Sea Of Oblivion' 16 Sep 2014 : Becca Voelcker for Ocula

At the height of McCarthyism, American writer Ray Bradbury published his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 which describes life in a near future where all books are burned on the orders of the state. Extrapolating from the situation of censorship that he felt pervaded 1950s America, Bradbury imagined a fleet of ‘firemen’ who ignite all...

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In Related Press

View All (11)
Yasumasa Morimura: Ego Obscura & In the Room of Art History Related Press Yasumasa Morimura: Ego Obscura & In the Room of Art History The Brooklyn Rail : 11 December 2018

Yasumasa Morimura's practice is about blurring boundaries. His intricate tableaus hover in the interstitial space between painting and photography and are admired for their inquiry into the construction of gender and identity. Two exhibitions, In the Room of Art History at Luhring Augustine Bushwick and Ego Obscura at the Japan Society, make clear...

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The Japanese artist putting himself in the world’s most famous art works Related Press The Japanese artist putting himself in the world’s most famous art works Dazed : 15 November 2018

'In the end, what is history? And what is historical truth? These are questions that do not have ready answers,' Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura asks in egó sympósion', the preface he pens in the catalogue for Ego Obscura, a 30-year retrospective of photographic work in which he transforms iconic works of art and pop culture into self-portraits.

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Seven Artists on the Warhol Influence Related Press Seven Artists on the Warhol Influence The New York Times : 1 November 2018

Three decades after Andy Warhol's death, he remains one of America's most provocative artists. His influence on popular culture is so pervasive that each emerging art movement after him has had to grapple with Warhol's focus on surface perfections and his singular celebrity. Despite their complicated feelings, many contemporary artists say they...

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Yasumasa Morimura on the empty center of identity Related Press Yasumasa Morimura on the empty center of identity Artforum : 19 October 2018

I FIRST STARTED making self-portraits in 1985, using prosthetics, cosmetics, and sets to assume the roles of figures who signify more than themselves—individuals or works that have become archetypes, including old masters' paintings, Albrecht Dürer's Self-Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Édouard Manet's Olympia, Andy Warhol, Marilyn...

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