20 May 2013

Souzou - Outsider Art from Japan, a Wellcome Collection Exhibition

Okinawan lion by Ryosuke Otsuji

2010, clay, natural glaze; Shiga Prefecture

All images © Wellcome Trust
To go to an exhibition of the art of the “mad” (a word we are not really allowed to use any more, and yet it is useful, as a pointer) is to look inside our own minds. For so many to be insane, whether on a temporary or permanent basis seems to be outside our personal experience. 

Untitled by Shingo Ikeda

Undated, artist's notebook, collection of the artist
Yet who amongst us has not felt the mad fury of rage against something, or someone, or the insanity of infatuation, obsessive desire, the unwarranted despair over one of life’s disappointments? If you haven’t at some stage, gone through one of these states of mind maybe you are, well, mad, or auto-supressing information?

Untitled by Marie Suzuki

2008-10, sketchbook, pen; collection of the artist

The present exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, which it says is “the free destination for the incurably curious” is of Souzou, or Outsider Art, from Japan. All the exhibitors are in some form of care, and the exhibits have thus been produced under the aegis of a specialist institution. 

Embroidered Chocolate Cake by Norie Shukumatani

2011, embroidery thread, felt, T-shirt tag, cotton; collection of the artist

The definition of Souzou is itself interesting I think. Outsider Art I feel tells us where the work comes from in the physical world, the French term Art Brut, means raw or uncooked and this tells us what it is. The Japanese word souzou, has two meanings, one is creation, the other imagination, and for me this sums up where it originates, the mind, the unconscious, and is thus pure self expression, mostly unmediated.

Untitled (detail) by Komei Bekki

1980-4, 200 clay objects, collection of the artist

Although aware, some more than others, of the world around them, souzou people are not interested in following fashionable trends. Much of the work is obsessive, the materials are unconventional, the methods personal. It is inventive, amusing at times, intriguing, revelatory. It is not naive, or childlike. Do go and find out for yourself what goes on in our minds when we are not inhibited by convention.

Diary by Takanori Herai

c. 2009-11, pencil on paper, collection of the artist

The videos are beautifully filmed and add to, not exactly understanding the motives of the artists, but an appreciation of the time and effort that went into making the work, and gratitude for the enlightened attitude of those who encourage and support these creative acts.

All images © Wellcome Trust

The exhibition runs until the 30th June 2013 in London. As mentioned above entrance is free. Find out more about the Wellcome Collection here.


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