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Yasumasa Morimura

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Artist 313

Yasumasa Morimura

Subversion of Reality


Yasumasa Morimura (born 1951) is a Japanese appropriation artist. He has been working as a conceptual photographer and filmmaker for more than three decades. Morimura is known for his how he embeds his own likeness into iconic images appropriated from art history, mass media, and popular culture. He produces photographs that are simultaneously both a celebration and satirical in nature. He uses these to explore their the long lasting influence and the stories they convey.

Morimura claims that by reconstructing historically resonant images, he “bring[s] them back to life as things of the present. A bit like reconstituting freeze-dried tofu and serving it up again to eat now.”

Morimura uses makeup, costuming, and prosthetics to transform himself into the protagonists he portrays, while providing visual cues that hint at his masquerade.

Morimura masterfully transforms himself into recognizable subjects, often from the Western cultural canon. Morimura often bases his artworks on seminal paintings as well as images culled from historical materials, mass media, and popular culture.

“The value of art is its ability to look into the "world of oblivion" and to find things that are generally unrecognized, forgotten, invisible and impossible to tell.” -Yasumasa Morimura

The artist’s reinvention of iconic photographs and art historical masterpieces challenges the associations the viewer has with the subjects, while also commenting on Japan’s complex absorption of Western culture.

Through his depiction of female stars and characters, Morimura subverts the concept of the “male gaze”; within each image he both challenges the authority of identity and overturns the traditional scope of self-portraiture.

When looking through how he defines his work on his website in work introduction he titles the collections: ‘how I became the history of Western Art’; ‘how I became the history of Japanese Art’; and in his other series he recreates men and women of the world (both actresses and figures of history) in exploring their existences either as objects of beauty or war. He examines them and their meanings.

His choice of language ‘I become’ speaks greatly to his intention in these works it is not just dressing up but a process of rebirth and restructuring.

He explains, “Taking photographs is generally an act of 'looking at the object, whereas 'being seen' or 'showing' is what is most interest to one who does a self-portrait...self-portraits deny not only photography itself but the 20th century as an era as inevitable phenomenon at the end of the 20th century.”

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