20.07.21 - 29.08.21
Camán & Co. / Micaiah Carter / Stephen Maurice Graham / Kellen Hatanaka / Jiraiya / Mark McCambridge / Fiona McDonnell / Shiro Masuyama feat. Taira Ichikawa / Hiroko Okada / Sonny Ross / Yulia Skogoreva / Satoru Tamura / Hayahisa Tomiyasu / Harumi Yamaguchi / Atsushi Yamamoto / Baron Yoshimoto
VAMOS NIPPON! is the fourth instalment of the Naughton Gallery’s sports exhibition series, specially programmed to coincide with the Tokyo Summer Olympics. This edition of the sports series sees a focus on Japan, celebrating Japanese sport and sports culture whilst also using a sports context to discuss issues relating to gender, sexuality, race, and politics in Japanese history and contemporary society.
Featuring an exciting roster of renowned Japanese artists – in addition to artists from Canada, Russia, the USA, the UK, and Ireland – VAMOS NIPPON! showcases a range of sports – including sumo, keirin, ping pong, and baseball – in a selection of works which are visually striking, culturally significant, thought-provoking, and often full of humour.
Amongst the works on display we see a photographer’s daily observation of a ping pong table visible from his apartment window (Hayahisa Tomiyasu); the documentation of the lives of female sumo wrestlers (Yulia Skogoreva); a parody of compulsory radio calisthenics exercises practiced in Japanese public schools (Hiroko Okada); an in-depth study of the Asahi, a Japanese-Canadian baseball team established in 1914 (Kellen Hatanaka); a critique of government spending on the 2020 Summer Olympics (Shiro Masuyama featuring Taira Ichikawa); and the Harumi Gals, an iconic series of pin-up drawings of women who engage in ‘masculine’ sports, which became symbolic of the shifting role of women in Japanese society in the 1970s (Harumi Yamaguchi).
Additionally, notable athletes from throughout Japanese sporting history are highlighted and celebrated, including Hall of Fame baseball player Ichiro Suzuki; tennis champion Naomi Osaka; basketballer Rui Hachimura; women’s freestyle wrestling record-breaker Kaori Icho; the legendary women’s volleyball team, the Oriental Witches; and track and field athlete Kinue Hitomi, the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal and the first woman to represent Japan at the Olympics.
Expanding on the Naughton Gallery’s longstanding consideration of comics within a fine art context, VAMOS NIPPON! features a display of manga (Japanese comic books) circa 1947 to the present, including Batto-Kun (Inoue Kazuo, 1947), Mach GoGoGo (Tatsuo Yoshida, 1966), Attack No.1 (Chikako Urano, 1968), and Captain Tsubasa (Yōichi Takahashi, 1981). Sports manga provides a fascinating insight into how sport developed in Japan after the Second World War. Martial arts, the arrival of western sports, the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, women’s sports, and the values promoted by sport are just some of the themes explored in the manga on display. Specially-produced prints from renowned mangaka Baron Yoshimoto’s The Gamblers (1969-70) reference kōei kyōgi (public sports including horse racing and bicycle racing that can be gambled on legally) whilst Jiraiya considers sport through an LGBTQ+ lens with his famous gachimuchi (buff-and-chubby) hunks. The sports manga display is complemented by a commissioned essay from manga historian Ryan Holmberg which explores the phenomenon of the makyū (魔球, literally ‘demon ball’), a word originating from baseball manga to describe fast-flying and distorted balls.
The exhibition also promotes Japanese sports culture through a feature on SHUKYU, a Japanese football magazine focused on the intricacies of football culture and design, in addition to showcasing the iconic Onitsuko Tiger Mexico 66 sneakers (the Japanese delegation’s official shoes for the 1966 Mexico Olympics); a selection of vinyl sports figurines from the highly-collectible Be@rbrick line by MediCom Toy; and a copy of Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2007), a beautiful memoir about the author’s intertwined obsessions with running and writing.
VAMOS NIPPON! offers a fascinating insight into Japanese sport and culture, and has been generously supported by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and the Japan Society.
Image: Kellen Hatanaka