Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection
Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan is this year’s spring exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. In keeping with past exhibitions, Souzou features a large amount of works: over 300 pieces from 46 artists, originating from 12 different prefectures across Japan, all of whom have been diagnosed with cognitive, developmental or behavioural disorders, or mental illnesses.
The word Souzou cannot be translated into English, but in Japanese it carries two meanings: “creation” and “imagination”. Both words are embodied by the pieces on show, which are described as outsider art: the raw art referred to in French artist Jean Dubuffet’s theory of art brut. It is art created by individuals without formal training, acting upon their creative impulses without the aim of producing work for a specific audience.
All of the Souzou artists work within social welfare facilities in Japan and their art reveals their individual histories and passions. Some of the pieces are the outcome of personal rituals, for example Komei Bekki, whose piece Untitled (1980-84) consists of 200 small clay objects, prefers to work alone in his shared studio, in the evenings, after the others have left. He begins his work by removing his clothes and then putting them on again inside out, and sometimes shapes the clay with his mouth. Sakiko Kono’s collection of fabric dolls represent her friends and the people who work at the facility where she lives, while Hiroyuki Komatsu’s drawings depict scenes from his favourite television shows.
The exhibition includes works in a wide range of media, however, most of the pieces are constructed using non-specialist materials that are easily acquired: cardboard, graph paper and even pyjamas. One particularly stunning piece is Shota Katsube’s tiny army consisting of 300 soldiers and imagined creatures, all fashioned from metallic bag ties.
The last room of the exhibition contains videos interviews with several of the featured artists talking about their backgrounds and practices. Their stories are fascinating and sometimes saddening, yet incredibly inspiring.
Souzou brings together a colourful, energetic collection of works. The concept has clearly been well-considered, making for a different and innovative show that is well worth a visit.
Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan is at the Wellcome Collection until 30th June 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.