Edo Pop: a contemporary spin on an old art form

One of the great strengths of the Edo Pop exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is that it doesn’t simply present the art of the Edo period (1600-1868), but connects it to art being made today.

The final two galleries of the show are dedicated to contemporary artists whose work has been strongly influenced by the Japanese woodblock prints.

And it’s not hard to see similarities between the Edo period of Japan and modern Western culture, including hedonism, consumerism, and escapism.


One for the Money, Two Faux the Show (Still Pimpin’), after Katsukawa Shun’ei’s The Actor Ichikawa Komazo III, 2006

Iona Rozeal Brown

In her work “One for the Money, Two Faux the Show (Still Pimpin’),” Iona Rozeal Brown explores what Hip Hop culture looks like when it’s taken out of context. Brown spent six months in Japan, looking at how certain Japanese youth were darkening their skin and getting perms to give them afros. Brown says it wasn’t hard to make the connection between hip hop and the ukiyo-e prints:

Ukiyo-e, or ‘the floating world,’ was a time of decadence: new art forms, high fashion, geisha, samurai – codes, honorifics, passages, accoutrements, style-flossing, whips, bling, rhymes, beats, cutting, scratching, fresh gear, dope ropes, b-boy stances, sampling.

Brown says there is a romantic ideal that we are all mirror images of one another; while on a good day the relationship is reciprocal, sometimes one culture is fetishized by another.


Crew, 2002

Gajin Fujita

American born Gajin Fujita got his start as a graffiti artist on the streets of East Los Angeles before attending art school. There he combined his American street art with Eastern techniques and elements in a way that presents modern culture through the lens of history.

In his piece “Crew,” Fujita and his fellow graffiti artists are transformed into Kabuki actors sporting traditional attire with contemporary logos. However the emblem of the Oakland Raiders is changed to “ronins.” Curator Matthew Welch explains:

In historical Japan, rōnin were masterless warriors whose lords had died, suffered defeat, or fallen from political favor. As a result, rōnin were disenfranchised from the military hierarchy yet unable to integrate into society at large because of their status and training. So Fujita is likening today’s subcultures, like graffiti crews, to the disaffected warriors of Japan’s Edo period.


Utagawa Hiroshige

Forest of Suijin Shrine and Masaki on the Sumida River, 1856

Color woodblock print

One of the most luscious works in the contemporary galleries is a series of back lit photo collages by London artist Emily Allchurch.

Allchurch pays homage to the works of Utagawa Hiroshige by transposing his distinctive style into photography. Using thousands of images taken in Tokyo, Allchurch creates collages that recall specific Hiroshige prints while using a distinctly modern vernacular.


“Tokyo Story 5: Cherry Blossom” (after Hiroshige)

Emily Allchurch

According to Welch this is Allchurch’s first exhibition in the United States. And it looks like her work will be staying here; Welch says he expects the MIA to accession her works into its permanent collection in March.

“Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints” is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through January 8.

All images courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

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