By Jeff Jackson
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Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan – A beautiful exploration of a different way of seeing

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Issue 2350
Shinichi Sawada’s sea monster

Shinichi Sawada’s sea monster

This is one of the most exciting, vibrant and enjoyable art exhibitions mounted in London for some time.

It shows works by Japanese artists who have no formal art training and who are cared for in social welfare institutions. 

The pieces express relationships, language, possibility and alternate realities.

Takanori Herai’s hypnotically beautiful Diary appears to be abstract shapes but these are hieroglyphs, which “record and disguise his daily activities”. 

Shota Katsube made his army of tiny action figures out of the twist-ties used to tie bin liners.

 With great flair the exhibition raises serious questions about art, the artist, the viewer and society. What is art? 

Who is and isn’t an  artist? And how does society care and treat its members that do not fit in one way or another?   

 The exhibition recognises that the idea of “outsider” or “primitive” art is problematic. 

The idea has taken on a very different meaning to when it was first explored by the early modernist movement. Then it tried to look beyond the restraints of high culture for inspiration.

 Here the curators seem unable to see beyond the limited definition of the term developed over the last 40 years in Europe and the US.

Since then it has been developed as a successful art marketing category, regardless of the artists’ circumstances or the content of their work. 

It is telling that the show stems from “an audit to protect their (the artists’) rights and conserve the artworks”.  

But between them they generate more electricity and feeling than some exhibiting societies can produce in a decade. 

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan
Free until 30 June, 
The Wellcome Collection, 
183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE


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