More than "spring prints"


Presenting an exhibition of Japanese erotic prints, assistant professor of art history Hans Thomsen and his students hoped that viewers would see the woodblock prints—dating from the 16th through 19th centuries—not just as exotic or erotic images but also as windows into Japanese art and culture. In Recontextualizing Shunga: Text & Image in Japanese Erotic Prints, which opened Wednesday afternoon, each print was accompanied by historical background and a translation of the Japanese characters in the image.

Those who gathered to view the prints at the opening reception in the Center for Gender Studies seemed unfazed by the giant, exaggerated genitalia and contorted positions of the characters depicted in the artworks. Sipping wine and munching on pink- and yellow-dyed cauliflower, they were more interested in chatting with one another or reading the long texts accompanying each print.

For the exhibit, curated by Thomsen and ten College and graduate students who took his winter seminar on Japanese woodblock prints, each student helped prepare the text for at least one piece. Midway through the reception, Thompsen called on them to share what they had learned.

One student noted that the people crowded into the room were "changing the very form" in which the shunga (literally "spring prints") were traditionally experienced. The prints, she said, would have been viewed privately in books, in calendars, or as party favors.

The students shared their reflections not only on the prints but also on their professor. Thomsen, one said, "is the type of teacher who really wants students to get engaged with the work." The scene of people gathered in the room "is an example of his teaching method."

Sponsored by the Center for Gender Studies, the Smart Museum, and the Center for East Asian Studies, Recontextualizing Shunga—the first exhibition of shunga erotic prints in the Midwest—runs through April 30.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photos: Thomsen (far left) and others view the exhibit; lovers unite in a print from 1904–05.

April 5, 2007