As Though Tattooing on My Mind is the first exhibition of the Japanese poet and artist Gozo Yoshimasu in the UK, and summarises fifty years of Yoshimasu’s career as one of the world’s most innovative and influential poets and artists. The exhibition presents pieces of his visual artwork together with various forms of his poetry, including double-exposure photography, copper-plate engravings, the sui generis gozoCiné video work and original manuscripts from his latest visual poetry series, Kaibutsu-kun (Dear Monster).
Yoshimasu launched Kaibutsu-kun soon after the March 2011 disaster in Japan. The complex catastrophes of the earthquake, tsunami, and the accident in the Fukushima nuclear power plant caused more than 20,000 deaths and forced the evacuation of 280,000 people from the affected area. Yoshimasu embarked on the project out of a deep sense of sympathy and commitment, in pursuit of “poetry possible after March 2011” but without exactly knowing where he was heading. He started scribing lines and letters on exceptionally large manuscript paper that he handcrafted every day. The new routine resembled the way that Buddhist monks copy sutras: Yoshimasu devotedly prepared the materials, his groundwork, and ran a pen across them day after day, ‘as though tattooing’ on his mind. Although his works appropriate tragedy as their monstrous source, they also take form as a peculiar offering of prayer.
Tattooing has long been practiced in Okinawa, among the Ainu, and on the Japanese mainland where tradition associates tattoos with shamanic power, sin, or specific occupations. Tattoos have also been thought to offer protection from enemies. For this exhibition, Yoshimasu draws on all of these historical meanings involved with the culture of body marking in Japan.
Gozo Yoshimasu is one of the most prominent figures in Japanese contemporary literature and art. He started writing poetry in the 1960s when he was a Japanese Literature student at Keio University. He has devoted most of his 50-year career to poetry, but has also created artwork in various media ranging from photography to video to spoken performances. He has won several prizes including the Takami Jun Prize, the Rekitei Prize, the Purple Ribbon Medal, and the Mainichi Geijutsu Prize in 2009 for omotegami, a photography book. He has taught in many universities worldwide including the University of Southern California, the University of Lyon and Waseda University. Presently, he devotes his time to creating gozoCiné (video works) and to the publication of books. He received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays in 2013, and was named a Person of Cultural Merit by the Japanese Government in the same year.
Exhibition curated by Sayuri Okamoto.
Image: Orléans+Tsukuda (2006), c-print (multiple exposure). Printed in "Omotegami", Shichosha, 2008. © Gozo Yoshimasu and Shichosha