Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan
Wellcome Collection | 28 March-30 June 2013
Wellcome Collection’s spring exhibition, 'Souzou: Outsider Art
from Japan', brings together more than 300 works for the first
major display of Japanese Outsider Art in the UK. The 46 artists
represented in the show are residents and attendees of social
welfare institutions across the main island of Honshu, and they
present diverse bodies of work including ceramics, textiles,
paintings, sculpture and drawings. 'Souzou' is a word that has
no direct translation in English but a dual meaning in Japanese. It
can be written two ways, meaning either 'creation' or
'imagination'. Both allude to a force by which new ideas are born
and take shape in the world.
Organised in association with Het Dolhuys, the Museum of
Psychiatry in Haarlem (the Netherlands) and the Social Welfare
Organisation Aiseikai (Tokyo), the exhibition reflects the growing
popularity of and acclaim for Outsider Art – often defined as works
made by self-taught artists perceived to be at the margins of
society – while questioning assumptions about the category itself.
Eschewing a purely biographical approach, the show is object-led,
with a startling array of works offering singular and affecting
explorations of culture, memory and creativity.
The exhibition records both intimately
personal and expansive approaches to creating art and the processes
of making, through six overlapping sections. ‘Language’ explores
the creative release of visual expression for artists for whom
verbal or written communication is challenging or impossible. Works
range from Takanori Herai's diary of hieroglyphics to Toshiko
Yamanishi's kaleidoscopic love letters to her mother, which express
depth of emotion through movement and colour rather than words.
Ryoko Koda’s intricate cityscapes are composed of a single symbol,
resembling a fictional character from the Japanese alphabet, while
Hiroyuki Komatsu's work recalls word-for-word the dialogue of his
favourite TV programmes. ‘Making’ looks at engagement with
material, the repeated use of particular and unusual media, and the
meditative and therapeutic aspects of creativity. Koichi Fujino’s
immersive ink paintings cover every inch of the paper, Yumiko
Kawai’s textile landscapes are built up through repeated freehand
circular stitching and Shota Katsube’s repurposing of wire ties
creates a vast yet diminutive army of action figures: all these
pieces are marked by the occupation and passing of time.
Works in ‘Representation' and
'Relationships’ reflect the things and people surrounding the
artists, often taking surprising and curious forms. The eerie
pastel still lifes of Takashi Shuji and abstract assemblages of
Takanari Nitta hold an ethereal, otherworldly quality but are
inspired by everyday objects, while Satoshi Nishikawa’s surreal
sculptures of fruit are made entirely from dense aggregates of
small ceramic rabbits. Takako Shibata’s expansive and repeated
portraits freeze her absent mother in time, while Sakiko Kono’s
dolls – representing friends and carers in the facility where she
resides – grow in size and stature according to the levels of her
affection. Dreams and desire figure strongly with idealised
self-projections in the work of Yoko Kubota and Masao Obata, Nobuji
Higa’s highly stylised and sexualised nudes and Marie Suzuki's
darkly dystopian drawings exploring female sexuality and gender.
Self-expression is framed through physical and emotional
environments, but interpreted in richly imaginative and sometimes
The absorption, reflection and acute
observation evident in ‘Culture’ contests the myth of Outsider
Art as being solely reflective of the interior mind. Daisuke
Kibushi’s immaculately rendered postwar movie posters, copied from
memory, Keisuke Ishino’s origami figurines and Ryosuke Otsuji’s
ceramic Okinawan lions all attest to a sharp awareness of the
cultural contexts and traditions of Japanese society. The final
section, ‘Possibility’, feature works that seek to comprehend and
reorder the surrounding world. Koichiro Miya explores notions of
ability, disability and super-ability with statistic-strewn works,
Shingo Ikeda’s beautiful notebook infographics calculate the
endless possibilities of subway journeys he might make, and
Norimitsu Kokubo’s densely sketched cartographies imagine real
places through information gleaned online, reframing the world
through a keen and creative curiosity.
Shamita Sharmacharja, Curator at
Wellcome Collection, says: "We are delighted to be staging the
first substantial exhibition of Japanese Outsider Art in the UK.
This is a show that will reward inquisitive minds, with astonishing
levels of creativity and resource at play in exhibited pieces.
These diverse bodies of work offer unique visions of the world,
richly expressed, which we hope will move, surprise and inspire
A series of documentary films
featuring a selection of the exhibiting artists will play at the
end of the exhibition.
'Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan' runs
from 28 March to 30 June 2013 at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston
Road, NW1 2BE.
A full programme of events will run
alongside the exhibition.
A press view will be held on Wednesday
27 March 2013, from 9.30 to 13.00. RSVP to Tim Morley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 020
Senior Media Officer
T 020 7611 8612
Notes for editors
'Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan' is curated
by Shamita Sharmacharja, with exhibition design by Jane Holmes and
graphics by Martin McGrath. It is organised in association
with Het Dolhuys, the Museum of Psychiatry in Haarlem (the
Netherlands), which staged a version of this exhibition in 2012,
and the Social Welfare Organisation Aiseikai (Tokyo).
The artists in this exhibition have
been diagnosed with a variety of different behavioural and
developmental disorders and mental illnesses and are residents or
day attendees of specialist care institutions.
The phrase 'Outsider Art' is an
approximation of another term that does not translate comfortably
into English. Coined by British academic Roger Cardinal in 1972,
'Outsider Art' follows French artist Jean Dubuffet's theory of Art
Brut, put forward in 1945, meaning a 'raw art', that was 'uncooked'
or uncontaminated by culture. Outsider Art has since become an
internationally recognised term, commonly used to describe work
made by artists who have received little or no tuition but produce
work for the sake of creation alone, without an audience in mind,
and who are perceived to inhabit the margins of mainstream
is the free visitor destination for the incurably curious.
Located at 183 Euston Road, London, Wellcome Collection explores
the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present
and future. The building comprises three gallery spaces, a public
events programme, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop,
conference facilities and a members' club.
Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global
charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary
improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest
minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The
Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education
and the application of research to improve health. It is
independent of both political and commercial interests.
Aiseikai was established in 1958 as a
rehabilitation home facility, providing care and vocational
training, initially for girls, then adults with mental illnesses.
After 2000 services were expanded to include day care, in-home
long-term care services as well as consultation support and
Aiseikai became the central provider of care and support for the
community of Nakano-city, Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In 2012 it
established a Projects and Planning Enterprise Division, with the
objective of raising awareness of Outsider Art (and art and culture
as a whole). Aiseikai sees new opportunities to enrich local
community life through the fusion of art and culture with social
welfare, and strives to connect lives and foster cohesion in the
Het Dolhuys is located in the Amsterdam
Metropolitan Area in the city of Haarlem, the Netherlands. It is a
unique museum housed in a building which carries 500 years of
healthcare history. Once a leprosy ward and chapel (1319) it was
extended to become the city asylum and was until 1998 a psychiatric
crises intervention centre. This 'architecture of exclusion' is now
a vivid cultural destination focusing on inclusion and fighting
stigma. As the only independent psychiatry museum in Europe it
shows how 'abnormality' was treated in the past and questions the
notions on 'normality' in the present. With historical collections
and contemporary exhibitions the Dolhuys encourages visitors to
think about the question 'Why do we think some people are 'normal'
and others are 'abnormal?'