In a temporary presentation several woodcut prints depicting kabuki theatre from the 18th to the early 20th century will be displayed alongside other images that deal with the performativity of gender. The pieces will invite visitors to interrogate the construction of gender beyond binary classifications, and to take a fresh look at selected images from the museum’s collection from a contemporary perspective.
As early as the 12th century, the text Torikaebaya monogatari (The Changelings) conveyed a performative conception of gender in Japan. The text centres on a pair of siblings whose biological sex was deemed male and female respectively, but who each made a career at the Emperor’s court wearing clothes of the opposite gender. Nō and kabuki – forms of Japanese theatre in which all roles are portrayed by people of the same gender – popularised this type of gender performance. In visual culture and art, as well, there are numerous examples of representations where the gender of the subjects depicted defy definitive classifications.
At the centre of this temporary presentation (which is part of the the Museum für Asiatische Kunst’s permanent exhibition at the Humboldt Forum) is a scroll painting by a court painter from 18th-century Kyoto that appears to show a traditional young man performing the role of a female dancer. More recently, researchers have begun to speculate about whether the dancer might perhaps be a woman who has taken inspiration from the attire of the onnagata – male actors who play female roles in kabuki theatre.
A temporary presentation by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Museum für Asiatische Kunst, on display as part of the permanent exhibition Ethnological Collections and Asian Art in room 318 (“Art from Japan”) at the Humboldt Forum.
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