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A Requiem: Art Top of the Battlefield by Morimura Yasumasa

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University
(School of Culture, Media and Society)

Morimura, who acts out men, travels across Japan.

Morimura used to be an artist who portrayed himself as women. He successfully impersonated protagonists of artworks from Mona Lisa to Frida Kahlo, and played women around the world from Marilyn Monroe, to Catherine Deneuve, Shima Iwashita, and to actresses in the Takarazuka Revue.

Morimura, however, makes a volte-face and poses as men to perform historical figures in the 20th century: politicians such as Hitler, Lenin, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevarra; and artists such as Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Dali, Warhol, and Osamu Tezuka. Morimura also portrays central characters of politically-motivated incidents, of which Morimura has contemporary accounts: more precisely, Inejiro Asanuma, who was assassinated in 1960; Yukio Mishima, who delivered a speech in 1970 at the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo Headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces; and even prisoner Nguyen Van Lem, a Viet Cong soldier, who was shot to death in 1968.

His artworks of video pictures and photos succeed in enticing viewers to immerse themselves in protagonists, be it in Hitler’s totalitarianism or in incidents in the Vietnam War, thanks to Morimura’s trademark humor and satire and due to the selection of familiar scenes. It is the Nakanoshima district in Osaka that Hitler, whom Morimura impersonates with the overlapping image of Chaplin, looks at from the window of his study. It is not in the Red Square but in the Kamagasaki district (Japan’s largest slum in Osaka) that Lenin delivers a speech. The street where the Viet Cong soldier is held at gun-point is nothing but downtown flanked by Japanese department stores. As a result, the images give the impression that these events might take place close to our home.

In his address, Hitler at first seems to discuss national issues, but topics shift almost imperceptibly into personal matters. He insists that 'totalitarianism’ starts from personal problems of each person before it becomes a serious political issue. The despot played by Morimura asks us as follows:
Have you not been a dictator toward your family, your lover and your friends? Have you not been a dictator toward flowers, trees, little bugs and stones on the street?

The catastrophic 20th century that staged great world wars ended, and we live in the 21st century. It seems, however, that a threat of war, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism would never abate. Instead, international tensions have continued endlessly. The word 'requiem,’ which is featured in the title of the exhibition, refers to 'Mass for the repose of souls.’ This word seems to reflect a zeitgeist that prays for the final repose of the sinister soul of the 20th century. At the same time, it also seems that this word insinuates that this sinister soul may be still in the process of resurrection.

The tyrant played by Morimura concludes his speech as follows:
The dictator of the 21st century does not have a face of a bad guy. The dictator of the 21st century is a ghost that nobody can see.

Morimura, who conspired to hide from politics and the limelight of history by acting out women, dares to portray himself as the most “macho” men among protagonists who ruled the 20th century in this moment and relives the 20 century. What intentions lay behind? In the exhibition venue in Ebisu, Tokyo, there were far more youths, apparently university students, than expected in regular exhibitions. Morimura has entranced youngsters with the charm of approachable pieces of art. Morimura’s eloquent messages to the 21st century, a new era, definitely capture the hearts and minds of youngsters at a deeper level.

(Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photograph: from March 11 to May 9, 2010 / Toyota Municipal Museum of Art: between June 26 and September 5, 2010 / Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art: from October 23, 2010 to January 10, 2011)

Keiko Sakagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University
(School of Culture, Media and Society)

She graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University, majoring in History of Art. After studying at Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, she has assumed the present post. Her speciality is modern and contemporary art, comparative culture. Her major works include “Painters in Dream and Luminescence: Reconsideration of Modernite (Modernity)” (publisher: Skydoor/ Winning the new face award of Minister of Education Award for Fine Arts) and “Berthe Morisot: Modern Times Lived by a Female Painter” (publisher: Shogakukan Inc.).