Printing Modernity: A Story of Colours in Meiji Japan

Third Thursday Lectures
Friday 18 May 2018 | 6 PM

Weston Room
Norwich Cathedral Hostry
Norwich NR1 4DH

Dr Stephanie Su
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow

About the Lecture

Ladies Sewing by Adachi Ginkō (1887).
Polychrome woodblock prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the late nineteenth century, purple and red were used extensively in Japanese prints, earning them the appellation, “colours of the age.” The sensational visual effects, featuring bright, saturated colours, marked a strikingly different aesthetic taste from earlier prints. Those prints were often described as “decadent,” or associated with the West due to the use of imported synthetic dyes from Europe. Such perspectives, however, suggest a dichotomy between the traditional and the modern and between the plant-based colorants and synthetic dyes, as well as equate modernisation with Westernisation.

As recent scientific analysis reveals, the sources of colorants were diverse. Printers constantly experimented and mixed different colorants to achieve desired visual effects. The use of colours signifies a more complex picture of the cultural, social and political transformation in Japan.

Combining interdisciplinary approaches to art history, material culture and conservation science, this talk explores Meiji visual culture through the lens of colours, its relationship with colour discourse, scientific development, and the process of modernisation.

About the Speaker

Stephanie Su received her Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Chicago. Her research interests include the Sino-Japanese relationship, global modernism, histories of collecting and display, the politics of the past, and materiality of colours. Her research has been supported by the Japan Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Cultures of Conservation, the Association for Asian Studies, and others. She was a visiting scholar at Waseda University, and the Assistant Curator for the special exhibition Appropriation and Transformation that explored modern Sino-Japanese artistic interactions at the He Xiangning Art Museum in China.

Currently she is working on a collaborative project Fashioning Colours with the Worcester Art Museum (USA) to examine the transmedial relationship between Japanese prints and textiles. Her publications include “Towards a Global History of Art: Recent Studies on Twentieth Century Japanese Art” (Journal of Asian Studies, 2018), “Classicizing Creative Prints: Yamamoto Kanae in France” (Awash in Colours, 2012), among others.

To book your seat, please go to the booking form or email the Sainsbury Institute.

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About the Third Thursday Lecture Series

The Third Thursday Lectures hosted by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures are on a range of topics related to the art and culture of Japan. Talks begin at 6pm (50-minute lecture followed by refreshments). Speakers are all specialists in their field and the talks are intended to be accessible to those with no prior knowledge of Japanese history.

Admission is free and all are welcome. Booking essential. To book your seat, please go to the booking form or email the Sainsbury Institute

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The lecture will be held at the Weston Room, Cathedral Hostry, Norwich NR1 4DH.


Future Third Thursday Lectures

21 June 2018 – Dr Jungeun Lee, Sainsbury Institute
The Sinan Shipwreck and Material Culture of the Maritime Trade in Medieval Japan

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19 July 2018 – Professor Peter Nosco, University of British Columbia
Thinking for Oneself: Individuality in Early Modern Japan, with some memories of Carmen Blacker

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Yakult and the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust.

Third Thursday Lectures is a monthly lecture series supported by

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