RYOKO SUZUKI

Anikora

source: artivismoes

En los últimos meses ha tenido lugar en el museo de Brooklyn una exposición llamada Global Feminisms con trabajos de más de ochenta artistas contemporáneas. La muestra no ha tenido límites ni de soportes ni de origen de las creadoras, con obras de muchas partes distintas del mundo en vídeo, pintura, escultura, instalaciones, performances, etc. El título es fiel a la idea: mostrar que no existe una sola manera de feminismo en este mundo en proceso de globalización y que eso no impide (al contrario) una lucha conjunta.

La imagen de arriba se corresponde con la fotografía Bind (Atar) de la artista japonesa Ryoko Suzuki (1970). El feminismo está presente en prácticamente toda su obra, de la que os recomendamos especialmente su serie de figuras basadas en el anime japonés Anikora (¿por qué es más excitante para algun@s una mujer vestida con la ropa que se le impone a las niñas que otra desnuda?) y la serie fotográfica Human Beings (Seres humanos) contra el estereotipo que se ha impuesto en la sociedad sobre cómo debe ser una persona.
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source: courseswashingtonedu

Ryoko Suzuki is a Japanese artist. She was born in 1970 in Hokkaido,Japan. In 1990 she graduated from Junior College of Art atMusashino Art University,Tokyo and in 1999 she graduated from Sokei Academy of Fine Art,Tokyo. She was solely trained inJapan and today she remains in Sapporo,Japan with her husband and family. Her work was first introduced to the public in 2000 where she participated in a group exhibition at the Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo and four years later at the age of 34, she had her first solo exhibition which featured her “Mama Doll” series. Her works have circulated all overJapan as well as Germany,United States,Korea,China, and Paris. Her permanent collection can be viewed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

During the first week of class we discussed how some female artists don’t want to be characterized as “feminist artists” because the term “feminist” often has this stigma attached to it with this “false connotation of being anti-male” (Hooks, ix). For example, during our class visit to the Henry Art Gallery the curator, Rachel Faust informed us that not all art in the “feminism collection” is considered feminist art and out of hundreds of female artists included in their collection only Kiki Smith identified herself as a “feminist artist”. Faust discussed how some artists may not want to self-identity as a feminist artist for fear that they will be considered solely as a feminist artist and be stuck in this limiting realm which may hinder them because they want to be considered as an artist who is taken seriously. First, I think it’s important to realize what it actually means to be labeled as a feminist artist. In the book, “Feminism is for Everybody” Bell Hooks states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Although this definition provides the essence of feminism the term feminism is very fluid and is constantly evolving thus feminist artists cannot be placed in one rigid category. There are several elements that could be analyzed as feminist art. Feminist art deals with an array of issues and it focuses on intersectionality and it involves: theorizing about practical problems, challenging false universals and politics, analyzes systems of oppression and deals with the different attitudes towards sex and gender. Although some artists don’t wish to be labeled as a feminist artist Ryoko Suzuki declares herself as one which I thought was an interesting and unique aspect to her. I believe Suzuki can be considered a feminist artist because her works address sexism as a fundamental issue and discusses how the patriarchy first evolved and its current state. I chose to do my final project on Ryoko Suzuki because I really like how she draws attention to Japan’s culture and how a lot of her work is based on issues affectingJapan’s society, she really focuses on the underlying issues which are influenced from both the past and modern times.

She is not simply a woman but one shaped by different interlocking systems of power. For example, her inspiration for her art is based on the Law Equal Employment Opportunity Law of Men and Women (EEOL) which was passed inJapanin 1985. This law was introduced as part ofJapan’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). However, this new law was not without opposition. Business representatives opposed this law and “employed an individualist argument which emphasized abstract concepts of equality while dismissing limitations caused by socially defined roles, particularly concerning childbearing and its attendant responsibilities and the inflexible culture that reinforced these gender roles” (Rawstron, Kirsti). The law stated that women shall be given equal opportunities promoting equality regarding both hiring and promotion practices thus eliminating any discrimination based on gender in the workforce. However, because the law stated absolute equality of treatment this meant that men and women must be able to participate in waged work under identical conditions. However, feminists and some labor representatives argued that “gender roles were too entrenched in Japanese society for workplace gender equality to be simply legislated into being. They called for the provisions that ‘protected’ female workers from harsh working conditions to be extended to all workers, regardless of gender” (Rawstron, Kirsti). These representatives believed that this would create a more healthy, balanced Japan where women could pursue a career, with help from their husbands working shorter hours and helping more with the household and family-care. For example, in 1986, “men spent an average of 11 minutes per day involved in domestic duties such as housework or childcare, while women spent 3.5 hours on those same tasks” (Rawstron, Kirsti); however, men spent almost twice as long at work than women did. The EEOL was intended to create significant change from the existing Japanese lifestyle where working class women both lower and middle class were given the opportunity to enter the workforce. These laws madeJapan reflect and reinforce the changing cultural understandings of gender (lower and middle class women) relations which madeJapan society as a whole, rethink current gender role and understandings regarding a woman’s role in the work environment.

Suzuki draws attention to the evolving changes of interlocking powers placed on females by the Japanese government. She discusses how two decades later the law has not been followed andJapan’s workforce is still primarily dominated by men and working class women must work twice as hard to not only gain employment but be treated and regarded as an equal employee within the company. “Lowest among the developed countries, Japan was ranked 41st by the United Nations Development Programme in terms of the Gender Empowerment Measure in the year 2000” (Hashimoto, Hiroko). According to an article published in the Japan Times, there has been a dramatic increase in work related health problems which are targeted towards lower and middle class working women. Working class women are getting injected with various nutrients and vitamins with energy boosting effects just to compete with men at work and to help them reenergize so they can be extra productive at work and in their households. Other working class women which include both poor and middle class women are suffering from severe exhaustion so they are admitted into hospitals for intravenous therapy in order to increase their electrolyte counts which promote a healthy balance of energy. I really like how Suzuki not only confronts but she challenges these cultural norms regarding the differences in the hierarchical system between males and females and addresses the struggles for lower and middle class women who are working extremely hard to be included in Japan’s workforce system as well as equals in general society.

Ryoko Suzuki utilizes photography as her medium and most of her work focuses on visual manipulation where she alters photos or images adding her own face to them because she literally wants to be part of her work which shows and helps develop her personal identity as a Japanese female. Her themes in all her work mainly focuses on gender roles and society’s portrayal or misconception of women portrayed by the media including film, television and an emphasis on manga (comic) and anime. Her subtheme in her work highlights “kawaii” or cuteness; Suzuki states, “Japan is a country submerged in ‘cuteness’ I have been surrounded with cute things since childhood and thus they seem natural but I have come to believe this ‘cuteness’ is unique to Japan” (Suzuki, Ryoko). Since early 2000, Japan has been swept under this kawaii craze which began on the streets of Harajuku which is a prominent shopping district in Tokyo where everybody (including both males and females) dresses up in extravagant fashions but has now spread all over Japan. Women (including middle class and upper class), especially young women, have been inspired to forgo simple or normal attire and instead wear these elaborate clothes almost like costumes that make them appear more youthful and innocent. Girls and even older women alter their face and hair in order to appear childlike or doll like by utilizing various patterns, stuffed animals, eyelashes, pink cheeks, and majority of their clothing is bright colors including neon colors, like yellow, green, blue, and especially pink. Artist and photographer Tomoko Sawada believes that the kawaii craze has been such a phenomenon because in Japan students are required to wear school uniforms and girls especially young teenage girls are searching for an outlet to express themselves and be unique and dressing up has given them that outlet and Ryoko Suzuki draws attention to how female identities are becoming lost and rather than focus on becoming strong, independent females they are becoming like objects, even worse, sexualized objects.

The subtheme of cuteness or kawaii can be seen in her “Bind” series (2001) which is her most famous piece where she wraps her head and body in pig intestines that has been soaked in her own blood. I will briefly discuss how “Bind” was the starting point of Suzuki’s transformation into a woman and how she views the world is based on her deeply ingrained perspective of cuteness. Suzuki states, “At the time, I was reflecting on my life, which was in the process of transformation. A child before, and living a life that adults provided me with, I started to explore my life as an independent being – by binding my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears with pigskin in order to ‘reset’ my senses – using an aggressive sensual reduction in order to get in touch with my core” (Perspective Project). “Bind” shows Suzuki maturing into womanhood and her new awareness of her own female sexuality. “Her face, arms and legs are seemingly disfigured by these ties evoking notions of violence and repression” (Sexual Deployment). The blood symbolizes her sexuality and her physical and mental transition from child to adult while the pigskin refers to her childhood memories, specifically of an English classic fairytale, Three Little Pigs. Ryoko explains, “The idea of “pig is cute” was implanted in me by adults through a cartoon, the “Three Little Pigs.” However, breeding pigs I saw at a pig farm, when I was a child, were so huge and ferocious that I could never find any cuteness in them. That was the first time I realized that the fairytale world was far from the reality, and I felt betrayed by adults. That is why I employ the “Three Little Pigs” as a symbol of lies and fictions given by adults, which become exposed sooner or later in the process of a child’s growth” (Art Tattler International, Suzuki). Although this piece follows her cuteness or kawaii theme which is based on a cute fairytale the piece itself does not visually represent cuteness like in her Anikora series (which I will discuss later), the emotions evoked in “Bind” expresses pain, constriction, and the innate struggle to break free of the binds society has placed on her and the binds she has been raised to believe from her parents. It is a very graphic image; the black background highlights the darkness undertone of reality. This piece expresses how Suzuki really is coming into her own as an independent woman who controls her own life and it shows Suzuki’s realization that not all things were meant to be glorified as cute and shows the difference of cute childhood memories and the reality of adulthood.

Suzuki states, “My later works, then investigate further outside, on female identity within society” (Perspective Project). I believe the subtheme of cuteness or kawaii is most clearly depicted in her “Anikora” series (2001). “The term “anikora” refers to the typical Japanese male’s desire to see his favorite celebrities’ nude; sometimes this pursuit involves putting a real woman’s face onto a fantasy body” (Sneak Preview: Ryoko Suzuki). Suzuki did just that, she put her head on the bodies of virtual characters which illustrate the roles of ideal fantasies of women through different roles that are portrayed in Japan’s anime and manga field. Her work explores the representation of the female body, and the unrealistic expectations placed on women by contemporary society (particularly men). Her photos “depict popular Japanese dolls, akin to Barbie dolls in North America with the artist’s face superimposed to create life-like uncanny image” (Art Tattler International). The dolls represent the traditionally “appropriate” gender roles assigned to women, including nurse, schoolgirl, waitress, sexy superhero, goddess, etc.

In her Anikora-Kawaii 11 (2009) piece the theme cuteness is expressed by Ryoko posing as a schoolgirl. “The Japanese interest in ‘kawaii’ (that mix of cutesy and sexual) is one of the most important values, and pressures, affecting Japanese women today” (Creative hunt) and when I first viewed this piece I thought this was the pinnacle of the meaning kawaii. It really does capture the balance between sexy and cute. The first aspect of this piece that caught my attention was her facial expression. Her gaze is looking right back at the viewer and it’s so mesmerizing and intense it makes it difficult for the viewer to look away. She has this very demure and innocent expression; her smile is very soft for it is not a complete smile which shows teeth instead she smiles very sweetly almost angelic like. Her posture is very unrealistic because no woman stands with her knees placed together and her feet apart, it’s so unnatural. Her arms are raised and her hands are clapped together which reminded me of an angel. She looks very innocent with her hands placed like that and the bunny ear headband makes her seem very young and childlike. Also I noticed that instead of wearing high heels she is wearing typical white sneakers like most high school students which also give her the appearance of being young. Although her posture and headband make her seem like a child her body is like a Barbie doll, she has very long, lean legs and a tiny waist, her chest does not seem as voluptuous as a typical Barbie, nonetheless she appears to be a doll. Her skin has this almost translucent effect, it’s perfectly smooth and the color is this beautiful creamy ivory color. Suzuki avoids any dark colors instead she sticks with a very simple color palette mostly light cool colors with different hues of pink, purple, red, and soft blues. The background is a light lavender shade with little hints of white specks which gives the appearance and tone of softness. Her uniform is based on a typical high school female student uniform however; she altered the uniform making it much more sexy. The uniform is tightly fitted highlighting her petite figure, the skirt is extremely short and the blouse is also shortened and very tight. Her uniform is red and pink which are typically feminine colors, they remind me of the colors on Valentine’s Day. Like I stated earlier, the color pink often corresponds with cuteness and the kawaii theme and pink is overall, a very girly color. I believe Suzuki intentionally chose to make the uniform a light baby pink color because light pink is more youthful and often baby clothes are light hues of pink and the color evokes a sense of innocence and virtue often associated with babies and young children. This photo does not contain any sharp or fine lines at all, every aspect to this piece is very delicate and soft which heightens the unrealistic effects of the doll. “Reminiscent of anime, the distorted, unrealistic bodies of the dolls express the notion of the super cute, or kawaii, an idea that confronts the cute but often highly erotic portrayal of women in Japanese comics, advertising, and toys” (Art Tattler International). Suzuki creates not only a fictional self-portrait but presents a humorous reaction to the prevalent gender roles assigned to women in Japan. Ryoko created this series to draw attention to the ridiculousness and absurdity of these superficial ideals that no women can ever live up to.