Decaying and Deifying: Female Body, Death, and Religious Representations in East Asia
4: Contemplating, Mourning, Peeping, Punishing: The Female Body in Ito Seiu's Mid-Twentieth Century Religious Art
Saturday, March 26, 2022
10:30am – 12:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of California, Irvine, United States
Painting of the Impure Aspect of the Human Realm (13th century) in the collection of Shojo Raigoji temple is perhaps the most famous of the Buddhist "corpse contemplation painting” (kusozu) genre. This type of image shows a decomposing female corpse in multiple stages and in a registered format. The 1950s paintings Fallen Castle and Shimabara Rebellion by popular artist and culture critic Ito Seiu are based on the Shojo Raigoji work, and while the same corpse motifs are found in variants of the traditional composition, there is a crucial difference. The “Buddhist” component is largely absent and the death is represented as the result of torture. The environment is a Christian one. What explains the representational difference and the pairing with it of Christianity? In this paper I suggest that the shift may be understood by examining both the historical and the cultural context: religious martyrdom traditions and female bodies were combined in the postwar period in popular publications and artworks produced for male war veterans, while the links between sex and religion were newly conceived. This variant on a Buddhist traditional genre should be positioned within the historical trajectory of both Japanese Buddhist art - and of sexuality - as a feature of modernity rather than a rupture of it, and this talk emphasizes that even the most ostensibly sacred of Buddhist images can come to serve radically new roles for their viewers.