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‘The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art’: Unpacking politics, protest and gender

by

Special To The Japan Times

Namiko Kunimoto’s new book, “The Stakes of Exposure,” interweaves artist practices and works with key events in postwar Japan. As such, the reader will learn about events that were critical in shaping postwar politics and protest that have previously been treated separately in the English literature: the Minamata Disaster, the Lucky Dragon Incident, and the ANPO protests.

The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art, by Namiko Kunimoto.
280 pages
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS, Nonfiction.

But, as Kunimoto notes, these events “were not simply the ‘context’ for postwar art making in Japan.” Kunimoto, an assistant professor of art history at Ohio State University, argues against understanding “art” as something distinct from the “visual aspects of political history.” She examines that dynamic by focusing on gender, the body, nationhood and representation in the 1950s and ’60s. The “exposure” of the title refers to various postwar anxieties about the dangers of modern life, from industrial pollutants and nuclear weapons to the urban environment.

Kunimoto’s attention to how the gendered body resonated with gendered narratives about society and the nation is an important contribution. Kunimoto offers close readings of the works of Hiroshi Nakamura, Yuki Katsura, Atsuko Tanaka and Kazuo Shiraga to illuminate the responses to shifting ideas about political subjectivity in postwar Japan. Rather than equate “gender” with “women,” however, Kunimoto illuminates the gendered posturing of the male artists she discusses as well.