Lone Wolves, Unlikely Couples and Conceptions of Organised Collectives
Japanese Depictions of Animals and Humans

14.06.2023 to 18.09.2023
Humboldt Forum

Humans and animals share more than just a habitat on this planet; they are tied to each other by a variety of relationships. More or less organised socially, they go through life in changing constellations, as individuals, couples and collectives. In many instances, depictions of animals mirror human behaviour, allowing the viewer to recognise themselves in these animals.

This temporary showcase of works from the collection of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst brings together pieces from 15th- to 19th-century Japan that feature animals and humans. Among the exhibits are depictions of the followers of Buddha (in Sanskrit: Arhat and in Japanese: Rakan) as eccentric old men or in odd couple pairings. Whether contemplating a waterfall or watching as a bird settles in their laps, these figures are almost always emblematic of a harmonious relationship with flora and fauna.

In their oscillation between attraction and recognition, approaching each other and running away, the rooster and hen depicted on a folding screen by painter Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800) illustrate a familiar conception of traditional gender roles. In other images, peacocks appear in pairs or family groupings, while a spry sparrow in almost monochrome plumage seems, when contrasted with a puffed up, brightly coloured parrot, to present an imaginary battle of the ego. Doe and buck practice partnership in the successful division of the labour of foraging and grazing, while turtles and prawns provide excellent examples of intelligent collective organisation.

On the pages of Ehon mushi erami (Picture Book of Selected Insects)by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), caterpillars, crickets, dragonflies, butterflies, and other representatives of their species act as inspiration for the peculiar poems about love and other all-to-human emotions that accompany the illustrations. With his animal sculptures enrobed in textiles specifically designed for them and intricately painted insect specimens, the Tokyo-born (1969) artist Akihiro Higuchi adds a further humorous note to this carnivalesque dance of animal and human forms.

Lone Wolves, Unlikely Couples and Conceptions of Organised Collectives is a temporary showcase within the Museum für Asiatische Kunst’s permanent exhibition Ethnological Collections and Asian Artat the Humboldt Forum, in room 318, “Art from Japan”.

Buddha (Pakistan, 2--3. century) in the module "Buddhist Art in South Asia. Stupas, Buddhas,
Bodhisattvas" of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in the Humboldt Forum
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss / Alexander Schippel

Permanent exhibition

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