Kitagawa Utamaro

Kitagawa Utamaro was an important artist in the Ukiyo-e era who focussed largely on images of women, mostly courtesans of Yoshiwara, a famous red-light district. The old Japanese culture was sexually very liberated and therefore depicting explicit pornographic scenes weren’t uncommon. In fact, it was a popular and respected art form called Shunga, meaning ‘picture of Spring’ (Spring being a euphemism for sex). Shunga expressed a wide range of sexuality (homosexuality, fetishes, you name it) and catered to the needs of the merchant class which was free from strict morals but it was enjoyed by rich and poor. This lively explicit sexual culture aside, there was also such a thing as bijin-e prints, which Utamaro is most famous for. Bijin-e only depicts then-famous high-class courtesans doing everyday activities. The viewer of these prints is often a voyeur, breaking into the courtesan’s personal lives which gives it all an intriguing sense of sensuality and touching vulnerability. These prints were immensely popular and you could now compare them to old pin-up photos. These are a couple of my very favourite prints.

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