Exhibition Opening – Eye Eye Nose Mouth: Art, Disability, and Mental Illness in Nanjing, China and Shiga-ken, Japan
January 29 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
This exhibition at the Harvard University Asia Center explores the intersections of art, disability, and mental health by displaying original works on paper and sculptures
created by ten groundbreaking, self-taught artists from China and Japan. Their compelling, formally innovative works come in a wide range of styles and media, from gestural abstractions to proliferating figurations, from meticulous clay obelisks to eye-popping wall paintings.
The first exhibition of works produced in art workshops for people with disabilities ever to take place at Harvard (and only the second devoted to self-taught artists since the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art’s Exhibition of American Folk Paintings in 1930), “Eye Eye Nose Mouth” offers an original contribution to an ongoing conversation about mental health and the acceptance of mental disability and mental illness in both local and international contexts.
The curators conducted on-the-ground research at Nanjing Outsider Art Studio in China and Atelier Yamanami in Japan, in order to witness the practices of the artists, and to carefully contextualize the works within their specific sociocultural conditions of production. As the curators observed the inner workings of these art therapy workshops, they documented the daily rhythms and artistic processes of the artists on video, which form a tapestry of moving-image portraits to accompany the works in the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition is an homage to the work of Hideaki Yoshikawa, who has been creating numerous series of works bearing the title “Eye Eye Nose Mouth” (目目鼻口, pronounced me-me-hana-kuchi) at Atelier Yamanami over several decades. His drawings and clay sculptures, combining obsessive seriality and formal inventiveness, are exemplary of the quality of the works produced at Atelier Yamanami and Nanjing Outsider Art Studio, but also of the most salient common feature of both workshops.
The two workshops belong to distinct sociocultural contexts at different stages of their respective histories: the former was founded in 1986, while the latter, founded in 2006, is a comparatively smaller structure. However, staff members of both workshops make it a point to never intervene directly in the creative process, providing care, support, and art materials while leaving artists at total liberty to experiment and develop their own artistic practices at their own pace. The works displayed in this exhibition offer a glimpse of the results yielded by these deliberate strategies of tolerance and empowerment.
Mental illness and mental disability are particularly complex issues in both China and Japan, due to prevalent social stigma, and, in the case of mainland China, a relative lack of state-supported care facilities. In this regard, both workshops constitute attempts to heighten public awareness of these issues, and to improve the symbolic image and concrete living conditions of affected persons in their respective societies. While insisting on the specificity of each workshop’s particular context, the exhibition avoids a rigid juxtaposition or comparison, encouraging the viewer to instead find formal and thematic echoes across the works.
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