Perseverance

[ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JUNE 2015]

Recently the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened a new exhibit called Perseverance. Perseverance examines Japanese tattooing as a full-fledged and vibrant art form. We get to learn about its roots in the Edo period (1615-1868) to the Japanese tattoos of today. Some aspects have evolved over time, while some traditions have stuck around for centuries. It “focuses on the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists –Ryudaibori (formerly Horitaka), Horitomo, Horishiki, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken – inspired by the Japanese tradition of tattooing and heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese arts of calligraphy and ukiyo-e woodblock printmaking” (VMFA).

“Our exhibition title comes from the Japanese word gaman, loosely translated as “perseverance” – a word which has long been associated with tattooing in Japan.” reads the artist statement of curator Takahiro Kitamura. “Perseverance is what created this amazing art form despite numerous attempts by the Japanese government to suppress it, despite ongoing prejudices against its practitioners and clients, and despite a constant trend to oversimplify its complexities in contemporary media”

The exhibit consists of walls covered in framed photographs of gorgeous, elaborate tattoos. Some depicting ancient demons, some capturing lotus flowers, each completely unique and awesome. There were also large rows of life-size photos of people whose entire torsos were tattooed.

Once I got to the second room, I got to learn more about the tattoo artists themselves. There was a row of photos of the various artists along with a bio. In the middle of the room on a coffee table was a book that detailed information on the history of Japanese tattoos, the specific symbols and meanings, a biography of the curator, and more.

It was a fascinating exhibit! I might have to return when I have more time and read that book in more detail.

The exhibit runs until September 27, 2015 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220). Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students.

Here is the VMFA’s website: https://vmfa.museum/exhibitions/exhibitions/art-japanese-tattoo/

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