|Althea and Danita with David Smith's Voltri VII|
The reunion got off to a rolling start, with Althea, my roommate Danita and I getting in 24 hours of activities ahead of our full contingent. Our first cultural activity was a stop at the National Gallery of Art to take in the blockbuster exhibit The Life of Animals in Japanese Art. It was particularly apt since Danita spent a year working in Japan post-graduation.
|Deer Bearing Symbols of the Kasuga Deities (14th c.)|
I did, however, catch that this deer is one of the seven objects in the exhibit that has been designated an Important Cultural Property -- or a National Treasure -- by the Japanese Government. According to legend, a Shinto figure was seen riding a deer many centuries ago. The animal is thus considered sacred as a conduit between ordinary people and religious deities.
|Detail from Naganobu's "One Hundred Monkeys" (1784)|
Detail from Uedo's "Fox's Wedding Procession" (19th c.)
In this work, the artist is making reference to the over-the-top wedding rituals of highly ranking members of the warrior class. His political commentary seems quite thinly veiled, especially when you see the entire screen.
|Yayoi Kusama Dogs|
The final room of the show, however, was dedicated to contemporary work. An enormous mural by Murakami Takashi entitled "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" wrapped around three walls of the gallery. Takashi created the work in response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan in 2011. The wild and unsettling mural included images of both devastation and hope, with animals like the mythical phoenix and a rare white elephant representing the prospect for a better future.
Issey Miyake fashions with Murakami Takashi
mural in the background
The wall card describing Miyake's work concludes by saying, "Although Miyake's clothing results from contemporary techniques for processing fabric, it also connects to the ancient custom of humans masquerading as animals to assume their power or grace, still seen today in festivals and rituals all over the world."
The Life of Animals in Japanese Art runs through August 18 at the National Gallery of Art. If you're not in the DC area, the museum's website includes some great information about the exhibit, including an audio guide featuring descriptions and images of 20+ objects. Click here to learn more.