In the wake of the tradition of ‘shunga’, a 1600s sexually explicit version of ukiyo-e, the 76 year old photographer has long been recognised for his works exploring the underbelly of Japanese society. His focus is firmly centred on the great fault line between public and private, proper and inappropriate, sleazy and respectable.
The blurred distinction between art and porn has caused more than a headache to the artist and various curators and museums whenever his pieces have been exhibited in the West. Whilst in the past he has found himself criticised broadly for the sexual subject matter, more recently he has been under close scrutiny for objectifying and dehumanising women.
In the foreword of Taschen’s ‘Araki’, he addressed these allegations with an impassioned, though not entirely convincing, eulogy to women.
“I tie women’s bodies up because I know their souls can’t be tied. Only the physical self can be tied. Putting a rope round a woman is like putting an arm round her”.
His unwavering fascination with kinbaku, and the intricate patterns created by rope-tying, toys, mythological monsters straight out of kaiju, life and death, flowers and urban landscape, is amply revisited in the 88 individual works, mostly never-seen-before images from the past two years, exhibited at the Carla Sozzani Gallery in Milan.
Three composite works, made up of over 100 polaroids chosen by the photographer, and a video of the artist working with his model and muse Kaori, further explore his antithetical visions of the everyday.
Whilst his work is not to everyone’s taste, the harsh criticism meted out by his detractors is often the result of applying western standards to Japanese sensibility. Behind it there is often a poor grasp of the cultural traditions of which Nobuyoshi Araki’s work is an extension as well as a reverential homage. He is at the same time a witness and a prolific contributor to that thin line between the formality and rigidity of social interaction and its seedier underlining, but most of all is a very keen raconteur with an eye for poignant and disturbing composition.
Nobuyoshi Araki: Araki Amore is at the Galleria Carla Sozzani until 26/03/2017