Sex and Death | Japanese Art in Hong Kong

A new erotica exhibition showcases the photographs of three master artists

by Chris Hatherill
Oct 14 2015, 12:27pm

No single series of images links sexuality, masculinity and death as hauntingly as Eikoh Hosoe’s early 1960s portraits of Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author turned actor, model, poet and playboy who would later go on to commit a gruesome form of ritual suicide by disembowelment—the famed seppuku of the Samurai era—at a military command centre in Tokyo. The haunting photographs in Hosoe’s Ba-ra-kei (Ordeal by Roses) opus show the doomed Mishima bound with a garden hose, struggling in ropes, holding a hammer to his temple and, in work #32, gazing intently in the camera with a rose covering his mouth.

Speaking about the series years later, Hosoe remembered Mishima’s intense stare and ability to hold his eyes open, stating that he didn’t recall his subject blinking once as he shot two rolls of film. Less than a decade later, Mishima led a small band of followers from a private militia he had formed called the Tatenokai (“shield society”) to the headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. After a brief hostage taking and coup attempt, Mishima and a follower took their own lives following the ancient tradition, making an incision from left to right across their abdomens before being decapitated. For Hosoe, following this traumatic end to an extraordinary life, Ordeal by Roses became a requiem to his late, troubled friend.

If you can pull yourself away from Mishima’s gaze, a new exhibition from the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation showcases other works by Hosoe, alongside his protégé Daido Moriyama and a range of works by Nobuyoshi Araki – notably Love on the Left Eye and Marvellous Tales of Black Ink, recently released as a book by Mörel.

“The images are very rooted in Japanese history yet reflective of the time in which they are taken,” says curator Lauren Every-Wortman. “Eroticism is a part of human nature, and erotic images a part of our artistic heritage and future. All the artists have a strong concept of Japanese history: Eikoh Hosoe draws from folklore and traditional dance, Moriyama has a strong sense of wabi sabi (the art of finding beauty in imperfection), and Araki’s work strongly reflects ukiyo-e – erotic wood block prints from the Edo period. They have each had an impact on global photography, but their aesthetic and themes are distinctly Japanese.”

Up Close: Erotic Japanese Photography is at The Space, 210 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong until 25 October, 2015.

Photo: Nobuyoshi Araki
Photo: Eikoh Hosoe
Photo: Daido Moriyama