MFA Exhibit Explores Japan’s Psychedelic Past

March 20, 2018 | By Asia London Palomba

Photos by Asia London Palomba

Despite being tucked into a narrow hallway located outside of the popular Klimt and Schiele exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, “Japanese Prints: The Psychedelic Seventies” exhibition drew a crowd of enthusiastic visitors. The exhibit, which houses a number of psychedelic Japanese paintings, prints, and lithographs by multiple artists, serves to emphasize a period of time in which Japan was breaking out of her post-World War II shell and contributing to the global hallucinatory art movement of the 1970s. The exhibit also features pieces by female artists who rose to prominence during this period and perpetuated the trend of increasing gender equality in the arts.


During the 1960s, Japan underwent a quick process of reconstruction to counter the devastating effects of World War II. As metropolises were rapidly changing and expanding, artists capitalized on this movement to experiment with new styles. A series of eleven lithographs titled “MonMon (Tattoos)” by artist Hideo Takeda, features heavily tattooed figures whose backs, arms, and legs swirl with colorful designs. Traditionally, tattoos in Japan are associated with organized crime, however the artists’ pairing of humour and an electric palette minimize the historically negative connotation to create an overall body of work which breaks free of traditional Japanese boundaries.


Many of the works featured in the exhibit are a reimagination of traditional Japanese iconography and techniques. Iwami Reika’s – one of the first female printmakers – woodblock prints feature natural imagery, such as water, which captures the essence of classic Japanese art. However, her use of embossing and the addition of bright, metallic foils, underscores the artist as a pioneer in the country’s artistic shift during the 1970s.


Some artists in the exhibit tap into the spiritual realm of Zen Buddhism which has long defined Japanese art, manipulating the iconography to fit the new style. Yokoo Tadanori’s 1974 silkscreen piece titled “Fire that is Earth,” features a prism of light erupting from the head of a psychedelic Buddha who is backdropped by a vibrant ocean. Additionally, Oda Mayumi’s nude silkscreen sea goddess from her piece “Deep Sea” is just one iteration of the artists’ tendency to create female renditions of Buddhist deities imbued with divine power. The young, female artists who garnered recognition in this time period empowered themselves through their subjects, utilizing strong and dynamic colors to break both artistic and gender boundaries.


Although small in size, the “Japanese Prints: The Psychedelic Seventies” exhibition is packed with a number of pioneering artists who shifted the direction of art in Japan and contributed to a global art movement. The combination of traditional Japanese art melded with a bold, futuristic color scheme creates compelling pieces of work that transport visitors back to the psychedelic age. The exhibit is on display at the MFA until Aug. 12.