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Ashmolean Museum presents Yakusha-e. Kabuki prints, a continuing tradition

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford presents Yakusha-e. Kabuki prints, a continuing tradition, an exhibition on view until 4th March 2012.

The Ashmolean’s special display in the Eastern Art Paintings gallery is Yakusha-e: Kabuki Prints – A Continuing Tradition. Kabuki, Japan’s popular theatre, has captivated audiences since the early 1600s, and brilliantly-coloured woodblock prints of famous actors in their elaborate costumes and make-up have been sold to enthusiastic fans for most of its history.

This display of actor prints from the Ashmolean’s collection includes traditional depictions of kabuki actors by late nineteenth-century artists Utagawa Kunisada and Toyohara Kunichika and recently-acquired works by contemporary printmaker Tsuruya Kokei.

Kabuki prints were collected by theatre-goers as souvenirs of performances and favourite stars – in the way we might collect posters for today’s blockbuster movies. Yakusha-e will display 20 woodblock prints showing traditional and contemporary examples of the genre from the Museum’s collection of more than 2,000 Japanese prints. Visitors will have the chance to see, for the first time, the recent gift of works from Tsuruya Kokei.

Kokei depicts moments from actual kabuki performances, and his portraits of modern-day kabuki actors, with their exaggerated facial features and hands, strongly evoke earlier yakusha-e. However, unlike the Japanese ukiyo-e artists of previous centuries, who merely provided publishers with drawings for block cutters and printers to work on, Kokei draws, carves, and prints his own designs.

The lively and colourful images in the display aim to inspire interest in Japanese culture. To accompany Yakusha-e, the Museum will hold a programme of related events including lectures, curator-led tours and Japanese tea ceremony demonstrations in the Ashmolean’s authentic Japanese tea house.

Ashmolean Museum
Beaumont St

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