The goal of the Clark Humanities Museum, which opened in 1970, is to give students the crucial opportunity to engage directly with original works of art and other artifacts of material culture related to their courses—an irreproducible experience that sharpens critical inquiry, fosters interdisciplinary thinking, and offers the keen poignancy of authenticity in our increasingly virtual digital age.
“Timeless Intimacy:” Love, Life, and Death in The Tale of Genji
March 28 through April 22, 2022
The Clark Humanities Museum at Scripps College is pleased to present an exhibition of visual representation of The Tale of Genji curated by the students in Dr. Rika Hiro’s Seminar in Asian Art: The Tale of Genji in Spring 2022.
(The exhibition wall texts have been written collectively by the student curators.)
Genevieve Erickson, Amelia Madsen, Chelsea McCord, Mara Morioka, Kaylin Ong, Laurel Ovenell, Elli Stogiannou, Ino Tsichrintzi, Avalon Vinella, Natalie Young
The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Murasaki) in the early eleventh century, and has since held a key role in Japanese arts and aesthetics. The Tale is the first novel ever written and is inspired by the drama of the Heian court. The narrative follows the life of Prince Genji, who is often surrounded by scandal as he courts women from a variety of social statuses and climbs rank within the court. Pulled from the Scripps Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery’s extensive Genji collection, Timeless Intimacy depicts the women in The Tale and their relationships with men, especially Genji. Although seemingly portrayed without much agency, Lady Murasaki conceived female characters who lived full lives, though some perished due to their affairs — hence the subtitle of this exhibition: Love, Life, and Death in The Tale of Genji.
For Genji, love is an ephemeral adventure that can transcend social hierarchy. Undoubtedly, his desires are both suppressed and made possible by the rigid gender norms of Japan’s Heian society (798-1185). Inequalities in gender and class resulted in women having little visibility, frequently being kept hidden, and thus many of the romances and intimacies sparked between lovers involve men engaging in kaimami, the act of secret observation.
Gossip, tension, secrets, and lies. Life in the Heian court never ceased to entertain. While the Court represented outward politics, social spheres of influence, class, and gender, The Tale of Genji also emphasizes the interiority of its individual characters: their thoughts, struggles, and desires. While nature’s changing seasons parallel the inconstancy and unpredictability of life, Buddhism and religion serve as a constant source of meditation, comfort, and guidance throughout the characters’ lives.
The impermanence of life is a constant theme in The Tale of Genji as the ultimate fate of several characters is death. Their returns as spirits reveal intersections between life and death and the physical and immaterial world as they directly alter the lives of the living through possession. Although spirits are closely tied to death and the deceased, they are also generated from the strong emotions of women, particularly vengeance, passion, or jealousy. Translating these spirit interactions and deaths into visual media reveals the unique ways that artists illustrate the supernatural.
Featured artists and artists’ workshop:
Tosa School, active originally in Kyoto from the Muromachi period (1392-1573) to
the Edo period (1603-1867)
Ebina Masao (1913–1980)
Nakazawa Hiromitsu (1874–1964)
Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)
Saito Kaoru (b. 1931)
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892)
Tsukioka Kogyo (1869-1927)
Utagawa Kunisada, aka Toyokuni III (1786–1864)
Utagawa Kunisada II (1823–1880)
Yamaguchi Ryoshu (1886–1966)
(Japanese names for individuals primarily working and writing in Japan are written family name first, as is customary in Japanese.)
Tale of Genji: Ch. 8, Hana No En (Flower Banquet), Mid-18th Century Ink, colors, gold, and silver on paper, 8 x 7 in, Purchase, Scripps Collectors’ Circle, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, 2013.3.63
Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1864)
Tale of Genji: Ch. 4, Yugao (Twilight Beauty), c. 1850, Woodblock print; Ink and colors on paper, 9 3/4 x 14 1/16 in, Gift of Mrs. Frederick S. Bailey, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, 54.1.21
Ebina Masao (1913–1980)
Tale of Genji: Ch. 40, Minori, 1953, Woodblock print; Ink on paper, 9 3/8 in. x 13 in, Purchase by the Aoki Endowment for Japanese Arts and Cultures, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, 2009.1.50