Shojo manga exhibit brings work of some of Japan’s best artists to Chico State
“Finally, I can bring back shojo manga!” gushed Chico State art and art history professor Masami Toku in a recent interview.
Any Chicoan familiar with Toku and/or shojo manga—Japanese for “girls’ comics”—will recall the popular Shojo Manga Power! art exhibition and related events that Toku organized in 2005, featuring the striking works of 23 male and female Japanese mangaka, or manga artists. The show, which kicked off at Chico State, ended up touring the United States and Canada, hitting nine venues over a two-year period.
“After the show was over, people requested another,” Toku said. “So … I decided to rebuild the show, but with a different concept.”
Her current shojo manga exhibit, Girl Speak: Shojo Manga & Women’s Prints, showing through Dec. 14 at The Janet Turner Print Museum, and simultaneously in the BMU second-floor public space, is “focused more on the woman in Japan—women’s desire,” she said. In this show, “you can see the change from after World War II, when women were focused on marriage and living ‘happily ever after,’ to now, when they have more independence.”
Toku explained that her 2005-2007 exhibition was, of necessity, an overview of shojo manga, to familiarize a North American audience with the genre. However, since the time of that show, “thanks to the increased popularity of manga in the United States and worldwide, especially because of the Internet,” she is able to focus on a more specific topic: Japanese women’s worldview through the lens of manga.
“Thanks to ‘scanlation’ [in this case, scanning and translating Japanese print comics into English digital versions, usually illegally], manga became very popular” since then, she noted. “People copy and translate manga into English and update it to a fan site on the Internet so everyone can read it ‘on time’ [when it is first published] and, in most cases, for free.
“Shojo manga is really popular,” Toku continued, “but we don’t see that necessarily, because people are not buying the print version—they read it online. This is the kind of thing that could not be visualized in 2005, but we are now living in a virtual world.”
Part of the “hidden” virtual world of shojo manga will be on public display at Chico State in the form of 100 pieces (both originals and reproductions) by 12 Japanese artists—11 women and one man.
As Toku pointed out, the portion of the exhibition that is housed in the BMU will feature works that illustrate, in chronological order, the development of shojo manga. One can compare, for instance, the wide-eyed, demure girls and young women featured in the artwork of Leiji (Akira) Matsumoto (the only male represented in this show)—such as “Kurara no Mizuumi,” from 1968, which features a Barbie-doll-like girl with a bow in her long hair cradling a wide-eyed puppy in her arms—to Machiko Satonaka’s 2013 piece, “Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters),” which includes what appear to be two sword-wielding females, or to Moto Hagio’s “Raimei,” in which a powerful-looking woman is astride a fierce dragon.
For the Turner Print Museum portion of the show, Turner curator Catherine Sullivan carefully selected artwork “in conjunction with [shojo manga pieces in] the show; [she] selected masterpieces from their own collection, including a Picasso of a cubistic woman,” to hang alongside the manga pieces in order to complement them.
“You can go to The Turner to see the comparison show, and you can go to the BMU to see a chronological show based on the development of the art style,” Toku advised, adding in the case of the Turner installation: “I was kind of excited to see how American people interpreted the shojo manga.”