Exploring the Visual Representations of the Ainu People and the 'Absent Image'

Link to join the seminar on Teams

A large exhibition on Japanese manga was held at the British Museum in 2019, which used an advertising poster featuring Ashirpa, an Ainu girl and protagonist of the manga and anime series Golden Kamuy. However, the usage of Ainu images at a European museum is not new. In fact, it is linked to a long tradition of exhibitions about the Ainu in the West. Following the end of the sakoku (“closed country”) policy in 1853, collections of photos representing the Ainu people proliferated in institutions in Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Russia. They were supplied by Western explorers and adventurers who had a first encounter with the Ainu people in the former land of Ezo, renamed Hokkaido since 1869. Ironically, the discrimination suffered by the Ainu people in Japan in Meiji period contrasted with the Euro-American fascination. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Ainu were featured in two of the earliest thirty-three sequences ever shot in Japan, which are exhibited at MOMAT (National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo), and after that, continued to be filmed in moving images to be screened for audiences overseas.

What was the reason of this exceptional interest in Ainu people among European and Americans between the Meiji period and the outbreak of the “Chinese Incident” in 1937? To what extent can images be used as tools for ethnographic enquiry? What is the validity of images to obtain any insight into the social reality of the Ainu community of the time?  The aim of this presentation is to assess the standardisation of Ainu iconography during this period and interrogate the role played by images in this process. To that end, the representation of the Ainu people is assessed in relation to a complex process of visual codification that also involved painting and engraving, as well as photography and cinema.

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Trinity 2022

Online on Teams (the link is above)

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm (Weeks 1-5)

Convened by Lola Martinez