Inspired by the rich artistic legacy of Japan, “Discovering Japanese Art” at the Piramal Museum of Art showcases a humble but wide display of Japanese arts and craft ranging from the Edo period (c. 1615-1868) to the present. These include Edo period screens and woodblock prints, designer Kimonos, elegant traditional furniture, and wabi-sabi ceramics, all from the Piramal Art Collection.
The crux of the Piramal’s Japanese collection is from or influenced by the styles of the Edo period, a time of artistic revival in Japan.
Society in the Edo period of Japan, under the military government of the Tokugawa Shogunate, was segregated into four hierarchical classes: the warriors, farmers, artisans and lastly the merchants. At the top of the social pyramid, at a relatively peaceful time in Japanese history, the Samurai warriors were highly cultivated in arts like poetry, monochrome ink painting and the tea ceremony tradition. The enormous and lavishly detailed gilded screens, traditionally called Byōbu, on view like the two Birds-Eye view of Kyoto, were used as symbols of wealth and power and would have been proudly displayed through the houses of these wealthy patrons. The sheen from the gold leaf covering might have also helped bring light into the otherwise dark castles and homes of the period.
Seeking to control public behaviour, the Tokugawa Shogunate set aside walled areas in all major cities for the establishment of brothels, teahouses, and theatres. In these districts all classes comingled, and money and style dominated. Ukiyo-e which literally means ‘floating world,’ was used to express this attitude of joie de vivre depicted exceptionally through the woodblock prints. They were available to anyone with extra cash featuring captivating depictions of sensuous courtesans, dramatic Kabuki actors, and romantic vistas. For the first time, artists were inspired by and responded to the interest and preferences of the general public. Featured throughout the exhibition are these artistic expressions of famed woodblock painters like Utamaro, Eishi, and Eisen.
The Tradition of Tea ceremony.
A special occasion involves prized utensils like those on display in the centre of the museum and special rituals on view on the television to the back. It aims to create the illusion of separation from the everyday world. It became popular among the military and wealthy urban classes during the sixteenth century, and by the 1580s participation was a standard requirement of social acceptance.
The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular principles of “sabi” and “wabi” where the later represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives, whereas “sabi” represents the material aspects. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. This philosophy of “the wisdom and beauty of imperfection” is seen through the ceramics displayed and the aesthetic of the show.
The ornate wedding Kimono’s, like the ones on display, were a symbol of class and power as well.
Originating in the Heian period in the 8th century, Kimonos soon became part of a codified system of social etiquette wherein colour, cut and style indicated the nature of the event for which it was worn and the connection between the wearer and the event. A great deal of expertise in dyeing, brocading and layering colours goes into the making of a Kimono, and hence it can be considered wearable work of art; immortalised in numerous paintings and literary works of Japan as seen through the exhibition.
Glimpses of coloured Kabuki lanterns and award winning Hotaru lanterns carry on the festive spirit seen throughout Aranya’s Festival of Light.