Review: New Women for a New Age: Japanese Beauties @ MFA
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The late 19th and early 20th centuries were critical in defining Japanese cultural identity. The depiction of women and how they reflected the country’s struggle to preserve their culture while remaining relevant in the modern world is beautifully displayed in the ongoing exhibition of “New Women for a New Age: Japanese Beauties, 1890s-1930s” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Tucked away in a small gallery on the second floor in the East Asian wing, the exhibit holds a collection of woodblock prints, images, illustrations, and portraits of women in Japan during this critical era of modernization in the country.
The exhibit starts with illustrations of Japanese women during the 1890s. A triplet of illustrations produced in the early 1890s, as well as photographs of women during this period, show the beginnings of western influence on clothing. Many of these modern styles are quite noticeable when comparing them to the more traditional art, with figures sporting European style dresses and suits instead of kimonos.
The center console of the exhibit holds images of Kuchi-e, (Opening pictures). These are woodblock style prints used on the covers of many Japanese romance novels and usually depict the heroine of the story. These prints display western lifestyle influences as well as more of the previously mentioned nuances in fashion.
Moving to the last two walls of the gallery, a collection of Shin Hanga woodblock prints are arranged in a row and show the chronological influence of western culture on the standards of Japanese beauty.
With the last two rows of prints rounding out the exhibit, one can see the very essence of what the exhibit wishes to provoke: cultural diffusion during this period of rapid change in Japan, and how those changes affected the way their culture saw beauty. These artists allowed for people to see the metamorphosis of women through this age of change as well as the hand of modernization at work in a country that had been previously isolated for so long.
New Women for a New Age: Japanese Beauties, 1890s-1930s is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until Aug. 20, 2017.