井の中の蛙

8/29/2009

Samurai Exhibit Pwned

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:41 am

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has been targeted by an anonymous artistic and political intervention that parodies the current Lords of the Samurai exhibition with a well designed website and a series of pamphlets distributed in San Francisco. The website is worth exploring, and becomes particularly interesting when paired with an interview with the anonymous critics on the 8Asians website.

Many in the museum world will feel that the parody is entirely unfair. The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to education, and museum staff include many of Asian heritage as well as many respected scholars who have advanced degrees in Asian art history. In addition, some recent exhibitions at the museum have attempted to deal (not always very explicitly) with the history of Orientalism, such as the recent one on photographs of Asia, particularly South Asia.

One might also respond that at present museum exhibitions are not subject to the same kinds of peer review and scholarly criticism that help improve other forms of educational production. Other than the occasional newspaper review of a blockbuster exhibition, and the odd blog post by a volunteer scholar/critic, exhibitions and their catalogs rarely receive the kind of critical attention that they deserve. I have long argued that museums are probably the most important scholarly site in the world we live in for mass education about other nations and cultures. (TV and films reach more people, but are usually less grounded in scholarship and have less of a veneer of objectivity and authenticity.) A good specialty academic monograph might sell a few thousand copies. Many copies will go to academic libraries, where they might be read by multiple generations of students (we hope!). A big museum exhibition, on the other hand, might draw in 10s or even 100s of thousands of visitors. The AAMSF’s 2007 exhibition “Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales,” for example, attracted almost 80,000 visitors, or approximately 931 per day according to The Art Newspaper‘s “Exhibition Attendance Figures,” 189 (March 2008) . Bigger Asian art exhibitions, such as the Freer Gallery of Art’s exhibition “East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art” brought in well more than 200,000 visitors.

Most museum professionals are entirely aware of the incredible responsibility they have in putting on exhibitions that often substitute for a nation’s entire history. Curators know that visitors might feel that having visited a show on the samurai, they have in effect visited Japan itself. This is the wonderful power and also the great danger of the museum; it reduces social and cultural complexity, not to mention historical variation and diversity, to a few beautiful objects.

Topics like the samurai and the geisha are certainly valid subjects for museum exhibitions, and in these difficult financial times, must be attractive themes as guarantees of significant visitor traffic. But why not call attention to the problematic mythologization of these figures, as the Pacific Asia Museum’s 2009 exhibition “The Samurai Re-Imagined: From Ukiyo-e to Anime” did? Why not, as the parody of AAMSF’s exhibition suggests, pay attention to less well known aspects of samurai culture and history, whether that be sexuality, the reality of war, Japanese aggression in Korea, or modern wartime appropriations of the samurai image? Or why not, as the interview suggestions, highlight the more nuanced scholarship of Tom Conlon or Hal Bolitho instead of the work of Thomas Cleary? These are valid and important questions, and the controversy illustrates the need for more scholarly and critical attention to the politics of display of Japanese art.

7/23/2009

Online Image Resources: Pedagogy and Geeky Fun

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:03 pm

One of my projects this summer has to do with the use of images in history classes: I’m trying to improve my teaching, and perhaps help others, by scanning pictures1 and identifying online sources for good images, as well as trying to figure out ways to do more with the images in the classroom. There’s been some great discussion of powerpoint and images in the classroom at Edge of the American West over the last week, the upshot of which is that images don’t really help all that much, unless you use them well. Not a surprising result, but the fact is that I use images sparingly in the classroom (and have never used powerpoint) because my training — and natural talents, I think — is heavily textual. I love a good map or chart, and I do use art in class both for cultural history and as historical documentation, but not enough. It’s not about “appealing to visual learners” as much as it is my belief that visual and physical materials are going to be increasingly important in historical analysis, both as sources and as forms of presentation. This isn’t cutting edge theory, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s by way of preface for some of the stuff I hope to be posting here2 over the next few months: images from my collection, and discussions of what they might mean, historically and pedagogically; other resources for visual materials and commentary on potential uses; links to other discussions of visual analysis; that sort of thing.

So, here’s my first collection of links:
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  1. both from books, which has copyright limitations, and from my own collection of slides and digital pictures, which doesn’t (at least for me, which is what matters!) []
  2. and at the other Frog blogs []

5/5/2009

Film Festival

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 3:31 pm

Just received this from friends at the Japanese American National Museum:

The Japanese American National Museum is accepting film & video submissions for their Second annual ID Film Festival, a series of films that challenge and celebrate what it means to be Asian.

To take place from October 1-3, ID Film Fest will showcase both shorts and features to be screened digitally in the Democracy Forum, a state of the art theater in downtown Los Angeles.

ID Film Fest welcomes film and video works of all lengths and genres that challenge and celebrate what it means to be Asian and/or Asian American. Please direct all inquiries to ksakai@janm.org

To see the films that we screened at last year’s festival, visit http://www.janm.org/events/2008/idfilmfest/films/
Please send a one-paged synopsis of the work along with contacts (e-mail, address and phone), a short biography of the filmmaker and a DVD screener to the:

Japanese American National Museum
Attention: Koji Steven Sakai
369 E. First St.
Los Angeles CA 90012

There is no submission fee and no entry form is required. Submission deadline is AUGUST 1, 2009.

4/14/2009

Samurai-related events, Bowers Museum

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 11:30 am

The Bowers Museum in southern California opens a new exhibition this Sunday, “Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum.” In conjunction, the museum is hosting a range of samurai-related events. Sword fetishists, get ready!

All lectures are free to Members and with paid admission unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, April 19
1:30 PM
OPENING DAY LECTURE:  ART OF A WARLORD, SHOGUN, AND DEITY:  TOKUGAWA IEYASU (1546-1616) AND THE POLITICS OF SAMURAI CULTURE
Dr. Morgan Pitelka, Chair of the Asian Studies Department at Occidental College and a cultural historian of pre-modern Japan, explores the art collecting, patronage, and memorialization of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military regime that governed Japan from 1603 to 1868. Tokugawa Ieyasu was a collector of paintings and ceramics, a fan of the Noh theatere, a grudging participant in tea ritual, and a passionate devotee of falconry.

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11/2/2007

Giant Robot Exhibition

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:13 am

The Japanese American National Museum once again displays its amazing ability to hone in on topics of widespread interest while still staying true to its mission in its new exhibition, “Giant Robot Biennnale”!

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From the website:

Developed in collaboration with Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot and the Japanese American National Museum

In celebration of its 50th issue and in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, the pop-culture magazine Giant Robot has assembled works by ten cutting-edge artists from around the country in Giant Robot Biennale: 50 Issues. APAK | Gary Baseman | David Choe | Seonna Hong | Sashie Masakatsu | Saelee Oh | Pryor Praczukowski | Souther Salazar | Eishi Takaoka | Adrian Tomine

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The curator of the exhibition and owner/co-editor of Giant Robot is Eric Nakamura, a fascinating character who has been pursuing his passions in the pages of this amazing magazine for the past 13 years. Part of what is exciting about his work in the magazine is that his and other authors’ articles perfectly measure the pulse of Asian and Asian American pop culture as a living, breathing entity rather than as a somewhat stale object of scholarly enquiry. Rather than linking interest in Japanese video games and J-pop stars with the now common stereotype of the urban otaku teenagers locked in their rooms, Giant Robot exposes the likes and dislikes, the artistic and musical travels, and the subtle but omni-present cultural politics of diverse individuals who identify with Japan while not being contained by it.

It’s also worth noting that as Giant Robot has increased its subscription base and attracted more attention and funding, Eric and his partner have become serious patrons of local and international artists, setting up galleries and improving their communities in various ways. I wish more academic institutions approached community relations the way these entrepreneurs do!

7/23/2007

The Rice Bowl and the Bomb

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:35 pm

Japan Focus and the NYTimes seem to be in sync at the moment, with a spate of pieces on resurgent nationalism and Japanese war memory.1 Say what you like about the NYTimes, but it gets good people to comment on things sometimes. MIT’s Richard J. Samuels is the featured scholar in this discussion of remilitarization and Hiroshima City University’s Yuki Tanaka is the premier talking head in this video documentary about the rearmament debates.2
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  1. If I keep this up, I’m going to have to start putting “War and Memory” on my c.v.: it seems like all anyone writes about nowadays with regard to Japan. []
  2. The video is pretty good, for 20 minutes, but a few things struck me as odd. The first segment seems rather cliched, both musically and visually. In the second segment a group of Waseda students is discussing rearmament, and the one who expresses the clearest pro-nuclear position has a distinctly un-Japanese name (I’m guessing resident Korean Japanese, but it’s impossible to tell for sure). And Mr. Taniguchi from the Foreign Ministry seems to be expressing a pretty clear and partisan opinion, more so than I would have expected from a bureaucrat. []

7/1/2007

Japanese War Memories at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:24 am

I’m not going to go though quite the same song-and-dance I did with Japanese Diaspora or South Asian studies because these issues are much more familiar to the readership here. But I did see two presentations that I wanted to share: Noriko Kawamura’s on the new sources and debates about the end of the war and just-graduated college senior Megan Jones’ fantastic project about Japan’s WWII museum/memorials.

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12/24/2006

Grading Finished; Blogging Resumes

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:45 am

She really has no conviction to her writing. It seemed merely argumentative and she was just trying to prove her points through facts. That’s alright to me but why write in the first place then if you don’t have any real excitement to it? I think that she does not make any real strong opinions, but rather forms opinions based on the excerpts from her source material.

Yes, this is my students’ writing. Apparently we need more passion in our scholarship, and less evidence. And the semicolon in the first sentence of the following takes normal empty waffling to a whole new transcendant level:

Society is based on differences and similarities; this is what makes the past history unique. Throughout history many people depict these differences. Some empires may be fighters while others are communicators. Domination, learning, and success are what set these apart from each other and what joins them together. Asian and Roman empires built strong states, and dominant leaders that rose up to defind the country and people. Civilization in the early ages shaped society to what it is today with its culture, trade, and power.

Seriously, though, there’s been lots of interesting stuff coming across my desk that I didn’t have to grade recently. Just today, PMJS informed me that the folks at Bowdoin, led by Tom Conlan, have made the Heiji Monogatari Emaki available, in the same lovely detail and interactive utility as the Mongol Invasion Scrolls they published last year. Just in time for my Early Japan class next semester!

For those of you who didn’t get enough Pearl Harbor stuff earlier in the month, here’s some belated Pearl Harbor anniversary blogging:

Also via Eric Muller, an article about the Densho Project, an innovative oral history and archive centered on the WWII evacuation and detention. The glossary and discussion of terminology and euphemism is worth the price of admission (It’s free; that’s an expression) alone.

On the other end of that war, more debates about atomic bombs, this time featuring Howard Zinn (and Gar Alperovitz) v. D. M. Giangreco. Also, details about the MacArthur-Hirohito meeting.

There may be some historiographical hope in the news, though: Chinese and Japanese historians meeting, and making progress, and the museum at Yasukuni Shrine altering its presentation slightly in the direction of balance and realism. However, as if the Japanese school system didn’t have enough problems, now they’re responsible for patriotism.

9/1/2006

History Carnival #38

“For both nations and inviduals have sometimes made a virtue of neglecting history; and history has taken its revenge on them.” — H. R. Trevor-Roper “The Past and the Present: History and Sociology” (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 197.

Welcome to the September 1, 2006 edition of history carnival. I’m finally hosting a carnival with a number as high as my age! In honor of the quotes meme making the rounds, I’m going to use my personal quotation file as, um, decoration around the rich collection of material in this carnival. As usual, I’m making up categories as I go along: anyone who treats them as strict or comprehensive cataloging gets what they deserve!

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3/13/2006

Monumental Repatriation

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:52 pm

A Korean stone memorial commemorating victories over Hideyoshi’s armies has been returned [via]

After decades of negotiations, the Bukgwan Victory Monument was driven through the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on its circuitous journey back home. Because communist North Korea does not have formal relations with Japan, South Korean diplomats secured its return and then turned it over to their estranged neighbor.

It marks the first time that Seoul has formally intervened on Pyongyang’s behalf to recover a cultural relic, and could set a precedent for the future.

It’s good to see a cultural icon returned, but it raises all kinds of interesting and troubling issues. First, of course, is the location of the piece

Although the stone tablet was less valuable than some other artworks, its presence at a shrine that honors the souls of 2.5 million military dead including those convicted of war crimes was particularly rankling to Korean activists. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took up the cause during a meeting last year with Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi.

“There were a lot of psychological factors with this monument. It was about an embarrassing and humiliating defeat for the Japanese, and I think they wanted it hidden away,” said Kang Kyung-hwan, director of the Cultural Heritage Administration’s international division.

Toshiaki Nambu, the head of Yasukuni Shrine, told the media that his board never contested the return of the monument. “The monument is not ours. We are only keeping it temporarily and planning to return it,” Nambu was quoted as saying

Which has to qualify as one of the most bald-faced lies ever uttered, given that Koreans have been trying to arrange repatriation for 27 years. This is not the end, though,

This is only the starting point for a national movement to recover all that they stole from us,” said Choi Seo-myeon, the scholar, now 76, who found the pilfered monument at Yasukuni after a lengthy search.Choi and his fellow Korean scholars say the Japanese were as bad as the Nazis in Europe: Imperial forces plundered treasures during an occupation that ended only with Tokyo’s surrender to the Allies in 1945.

The items range from the exquisite — celadon vases, bronze Buddhas, gold jewelry — to the macabre. Among the latter are as many as 100,000 noses and ears that Japanese samurai sliced off Koreans as trophies during a brutal 7-year war in the late 16th century. The body parts were buried in a mound in Kyoto.

When Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965, the Japanese returned more than 1,300 items. About 1,700 more have come home through private negotiations. Korean collectors have bought back some pieces on the open market, and some Japanese citizens have donated pieces. But Koreans say it is only a fraction of what remains missing.

One of the interesting questions at this point has to be whether there might be distinction, on repatriation, between items taken by governments (and their agents) by force or by seizure laws later deemed illegitimate versus those held in private hands and acquired through purchase, even under adverse economic conditions. If the latter distinction isn’t made — and the legal situation now is considerably less friendly to the export or purchase of culturally significant achaeological finds — then there will have to be a massive global repatriation out of Western museums. I’m thinking, for example, of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, which has some astounding collections based in no small part on purchases made in the 19th century, when Japan was at an extreme economic disadvantage to the West.

[Crossposted to Frog In A Well: Korea]

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