Manga exhibit examines feminity in Japanese culture

“The World of Shojo Manga! Mirrors of Girls Desires,” will be on exhibition at both Vassar’s Palmer Gallery and Dutchess County Community College from Monday, Oct. 27 through Friday, Nov. 21. Photo By: Vassar College Media Relations
“The World of Shojo Manga! Mirrors of Girls Desires,” will be on exhibition at both Vassar’s Palmer Gallery and Dutchess County Community College from Monday, Oct. 27 through Friday, Nov. 21. Photo By: Vassar College Media Relations
“The World of Shojo Manga! Mirrors of Girls Desires,” will be on exhibition at both Vassar’s Palmer Gallery and Dutchess County Community College from Monday, Oct. 27 through Friday, Nov. 21. Photo By: Vassar College Media Relations

This week, vividly colored and action-filled artwork will soon adorn the walls of the Palmer Gallery. But unlike most other exhibits at the gallery, “The World of Shojo Manga! Mirrors of Girls’ Desires” places strong female characters from the world of shojo manga, a type of Japanese comic book-style art that targets a female audience, into the spotlight. The exhibit will feature artwork from many prominent Japanese artists and gives the viewer a glance into these artists’ and their era’s perceptions of Japanese female culture.

Hiromi Dollase, the organizer of the exhibit and Professor of Japanese and Chinese, wrote in an emailed statement, “The exhibition ‘The World of Shojo Manga! Mirrors of Girls’ Desires’ presents how girls’ and women’s desires and dreams are reflected in shojo manga (girls’ comics). 59 works by 12 manga artists, dating from the 1950s to the present, are displayed. The works were all published in manga magazines targeted at girls or young women.”

Dollase received significant help organizing the exhibit from Teresa Quinn, Director of the Palmer Gallery; Monica Church, Associate Director of the Palmer Gallery; and Margaret Craig, Professor of Art History at Dutchess Community College. A portion of the exhibit will also be shown at Dutchess Community College (DCC). “One reason that we decided to have a joint show was for a practical reason; there are too many pieces of art to display only at [the] Palmer. But the main reason is that we can reach out to the community and give students at DCC an opportunity to be familiarized with Japanese popular culture,” Dollase wrote. “Over the summer, Anne Fritzson [’16] worked for me as a Ford scholar and she is planning to organize a manga workshop, trying to create an opportunity to have a conversation with students at DCC.”

In Japan, manga is viewed as a true artistic form. Dollase explained, “In America, comics tend to be viewed as entertainment for children. Manga, however, are read by people of all ages. Manga are more like graphic novels; they have rich plots and the drawing style is creative and skillful.”

Further separating manga from the Western perception of comic books, manga has the potential to give the reader a deep insight into the condition of a society. Dollase wrote, “Reading shojo manga, we can see how girls view the world, society, their own bodies and their socially expected roles. Learning about shojo manga is learning about Japanese women’s culture and history.”

But beyond simply learning about the Japanese milieu, the medium provides a jumping-off point for social change. “Shojo manga are often fantasy stories,” Dollase wrote. “But fantasy, I think, is very powerful. Fantasy is even a means to challenge social norms. In shojo manga, for instance, authors often break the stereotype of women by depicting unconventional women, female warriors, etc. Playing with the notion of gender is one distinctive characteristic of shojo manga; in order to explore eroticism, they use young pretty boys, or in order to allow female characters participate in historical events, they use female cross-dressers and situate them in a war era, etc.”

On a base level, shojo manga contributes to a market for the female-identifying audience in Japan. Fritzson who worked with Dollase over the summer researching manga, wrote in an emailed statement, “Shojo manga is a large part of Japanese culture for females because it is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. It is also studied; I have heard that universities in Japan teach courses on manga. When I study abroad in Japan next semester, I actually intend to take one of these courses.”

Most of the art being displayed will be from the past and demonstrate some of the important periods of manga art. Fritzson wrote, “Most of the artists contributing to this exhibit are from past eras. The exhibit is split into 3 different periods based on the birth year of the artist, and Vassar will have artists from the first period, like Masako Watanabe (1929) and Hideko Mizuno (1939). Dutchess Community College will be holding artwork from periods 2 and 3 in their Washington Gallery.”

The artists featured in this exhibit are extremely famous among the community of shojo manga readers. Dollase wrote, “It is amazing that all the 12 artists are well known and well respected! Five original works of art by Hagio Moto are being displayed at Vassar; people who know manga well and hear that original drawings of Hagio Moto (an artist who has been around since the 1970s) are displayed here will freak out! From today’s artists, Yoshinaga Fumi is very well known. Her works are known for the depiction of male friendship (or passionate friendship), and some of her works, Antique Bakery, Ooku: the Inner Chamber, etc. have been made into TV dramas and movies.”

This exhibit proves to be distinct from past exhibits at the Palmer Gallery. Fritzson wrote, “This exhibit is different from others that have been displayed in Palmer Gallery because each piece of art is actually a part of a large story, quite literally. Most pieces are covers or pages from the artist’s actually manga volumes. It is also important that each mangaka isn’t just an artist but also a writer. They are a mixture of both because their art is always a part of a larger graphic novel. Each page is illustrated in full detail.”

Fans of manga are eager to see this showcase. Seren Chen ’17 wrote in an interview through email, “I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the exhibition, but was pleasantly surprised. It showcased a good selection of the different forms shojo manga has taken, although I would have liked to see more recent examples included. The manga volumes placed around the exhibit definitely enhanced the experience, and I would highly recommend taking a few moments to flip through them.”

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