Visions of Gothic Angels: Japanese Manga by Takaya Miou (August 25, 2016 – January 15, 2017) launches the Honolulu Museum of Art’s series of exhibitions about manga (cartoons and graphic novels, particularly those produced in Japan).

The choice of Ms. Takaya’s work, rather than that of a legendary pioneer of manga, may surprise some people. Why didn’t we select instead the art of Tezuka Osamu (1928 – 1989), creator of the science fiction drama Astro Boy (published 1952-1968), or Hasegawa Machiko (1920 – 1992), known for her comical domestic tale Sazae-san (published 1946 – 1974)? The reason is fairly simple: we want to tell our audience, “Forget everything that you think you know about this art form.”

Takaya Miou, 'Young Emperor Heliogabalus'

Takaya Miou, ‘Young Emperor Heliogabalus’

Conservative art critics may dismiss manga as lighthearted entertainment, much like American comic books. Such a comparison, however, does not consider the stark differences between the two art forms. While most American comic books are adventure stories intended primarily for male teenagers, Japanese manga deal with an almost limitless spectrum of topics and are enjoyed by men and women of all ages. Recognizing its annual revenue of more than two billion US dollars, the Japanese government has recently come to celebrate manga as one of the country’s most important cultural exports. Amidst this international surge of interest in the medium, museums such as ours have begun to highlight the artistic precedents of contemporary manga, including the  woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) that feature so prominently in our museum’s Asian art collection.

Aubrey Beardsley, 'Venus Between Terminal Gods'

Aubrey Beardsley, ‘Venus Between Terminal Gods’

To assist skeptical visitors in understanding the art historical importance of manga, we begin our series with an artist who deftly avoids the common stereotypes of manga. Rather than being “cartoonish,” Ms. Takaya’s figures are painstakingly rendered. Her sources of stylistic influence are not American comic artists or creators of Japanese manga but Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), surrealist  sculptor Hans Bellmer (1902–1975), and Decadent poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Curiously, Beardsley’s graphic style was in turn heavily indebted to the “primitive” ukiyo-e artists of the late 17th century, such as Sugimura Jihei (1681-1703), so viewers might be delighted to recognize in Ms. Takaya’s work a resurgence in the popularity of Japanese woodblock prints.

Sugimura Jihei, 'Three Lovers'

Sugimura Jihei, ‘Three Lovers’

Above and beyond these goals, our primary reason for beginning our manga exhibition series with the work of Takaya Miou is to highlight the extraordinary accomplishments of women in manga, a medium long dominated by male artists and a hyper-masculine sensibility. Ms. Takaya represents an ever-growing wave of women artists who produce works with extraordinary creativity, technical ingenuity, and masterful storytelling that transcends the tastes of any particular demographic. In the coming years, we hope to further discuss the exciting ways in which female artists have contributed to the evolution of manga during the late 20th and early 21st century.