Curator & Art

Kawaiization or how the Meninas went shopping. Tomoko Nagao’s imagery

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant a turning point for the history of Japan. With the end of World War II, the nippon country accelerated the process of westernization and economic recovery which has converted Japan currently into one of the biggest global powers and a capitalist consumerism standard bearer. Takashi Murakami (1962), aware of his nation’s origins fading away, revolutionized the artistic outlook with superflat, a movement that adopted the two-dimensional and coloring language of anime and manga in order to criticize otaku culture, uncontrolled globalization and identity loss. One of his colleagues, Nara Yoshitomo (1959), was Tomoko Nagao’s (1975) teacher, a Japanese artist who has settled in Milan with his lesson well learned.

TOMOKO 1. Botticelli-The Birth of Venus with baci, esselunga, barilla, PSP and easyjet

Botticelli – The Birth of Venus with baci, esselunga, barilla, PSP and easyjet, 2012. Digital contents.

In the Italian city’s privileged environment, Tomoko has developed a language which, in superflat key, appropriates classic art masterpieces –Renaissance and baroque mainly- in order to use them, in a way that remembers Equipo Crónica, as symbols of western civilization invading her native Japan. What is better as a visual metaphor of this “invasion” than Hokusai’s Wave filled with consumerist emblems? The obsession with extreme capitalism effects turns into a horror vacui of Zara bags, PSP, Apple products, pre-cooked meals, YouTube and Hello Kitty (Japan’s Mickey Mouse). Beyond the anime reinterpretation, it is the famous cat who lends her physiognomy –those large and empty eyes- to characters such as Botticelli’s Venus or Caravaggio’s Narcissus.

TOMOKO 2. Hokusai-The Great Wave of Kanagawa with mc, cupnoodle, kewpie,  kikkoman and kitty

Hokusai – The Great Wave of Kanagawa with mc, cupnoodle, kewpie, kikkoman and kitty, 2012. Digital contents.

As Christian Gancitano, MICROPOP movement’s curator at Milan, has discussed, the entire Tomoko’s work is “an allegory of globalization”. The greatest exponent of that is a series of vector art pieces, made in the past three years, which contains Velázquez’s Meninas as shopaholics, Jesus hugging a stuffed Hello Kitty toy or Young Sick Bacchus surfing the Internet. These works show a playing attitude, some fascination and the most ironic criticism, while its bright and splendid colouring is legacy from Japanese woodblock prints and American pop.

TOMOKO 3. Las Meninas with cocacola,  cupnoodle, zara, kitty and PSP

Las Meninas with cocacola, cupnoodle, zara, kitty and PSP, 2011. Digital contents


Despite that being her most well known side, Tomoto hasn’t hesitated to bring her creations to life by volume and brush-stroke, which gives her kawaiizated repertoire a disturbing appearance focused on the enormous and expressive eyes that become empty and threatening. That is the iconography she has used on the last project she has enlisted in: POPUPREVOLUTION. Also leaded by MICROPOP responsible, it expects -for the umpteenth time in History- to bring art closer to the majority population by using public areas and common objects.

TOMOKO 4A. salome-with-blue-eyes-2014-oil-on-the-canvas-54x60cm

Salome with blue eyes, 2014. Oil on the canvas.


Mary magdalena with still life, 2013. Live painting on the wall, enamel paint.

Regardless of its surface, Tomoko’s work is still reflecting on the issue of cultural transfers (from the West to Japan and vice versa), identity and tradition in the context of globalization and destruction of limits between popular culture and elitist art. We should wonder why since the middle of the 20th century these problems have been recurrently addressed by artists and why they haven’t been satisfactorily solved yet.

Tomoko Nagao’s work can be found at her website http://www.tomokonagao.info/ .


Diego Fraile



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Esta entrada fue publicada en 5 noviembre, 2014 por en Art and though, Contributors, Diego Fraile, Editors y etiquetada con , , , .