The Art Underground:

a subculture of manga & anime, crisis & innocence

Japan’s manga and anime have earned world renown in the last decade or so, establishing their legitimacy as art forms while asserting their potential as tools of soft power. The Japanese government, lacking serious political capital on the world stage and facing a decline in its economic influence as well, has studied ways to use its new native art to better promote the country overseas.

The country’s classical art, too, has been held in high esteem around the world for centuries, especially its hanga. Van Gogh was a deep admirer of Hiroshige and wealthy art collectors from Europe were great patrons of wood-block prints. Those Edo-era prints are now a part of many prominent museum collections and continue to inspire artists—one was in fact incorporated into our cover design for issue #5.

But Japan’s art scene isn’t just the treasures of antiquity and Miyazaki Hayao. The extent to which contemporary and underground art thrives is really quite staggering, as any visitor to Design Festa—Asia’s largest art festival—will clearly see. The festival itself is a shock, albeit a stimulating one, to the senses. What becomes apparent as you walk the countless aisles of exhibitor booths is that for many of these artists, their practice of art is also an identity, that this identity is shared by many, and that collectively, it is a particularly active subculture of Japan. You can see this beyond Design Festa, in the tiny galleries of Ginza’s backstreets, in Yokohama’s Kannai area, where there are over 150 private galleries, or in Fukuoka’s funky Daimyo area. Art is alive and well in Japan in the people who live it.

We always feature young Japanese artists in Koe, but decided to run an expanded section in this edition as a salute to this important subculture. These artists are just a few of the hundreds we encounter each season. They all have a unique style, but seem to share something—something more than just the culture and society that acts as a backdrop to their work. The influences of manga are apparent. Many of the pieces have dark, unsettling overtones and themes, revealing the decaying underbelly of a once-traditional Japan marked by rigid societal codes. Private crisis is turned into beauty. In others, there is a pervading sense of innocence. In all, there is some serious talent. Feast your eyes, release your muse. The future is a broken promise and art is the only way to navigate it.





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