Shunga is an erotic art form that was created in Japan between 1603-1868. The art depicts scenes of sexual encounters, fantasies and eroticism in a traditional Japanese painting style. Perhaps not what you’d expect from old paintings and woodblock work, the Japanese originally felt the same with these paintings and prints banned in Japan for much of the 20th Century.
A far cry from the safe norm of Realism and Dadaism, Shunga catapults you into a new world of unambiguous erotica. Full of gargantuan penises, heavy haired groins and faces creased in pure ecstasy, you find yourself motionless, mesmerised and somewhat mortified by what you are witnessing.
Unlike Western art, Shunga is infused with a raw, yet delicate passion. Artists of Shunga expose the human body in lavish detail, eliminating all discretion or modesty, yet still leaving the depictions radiant, elegant and mysteriously tasteful. From heterosexual to homosexual, kinky to vanilla, humorous to romantic, each painting narrates a new, stirring story for its audience.
Utamaro, Hokusai and Kunisada, the iconic artists who created these wonderful works have been the inspiration for the creation and development of Anime and Manga art which Japan is now so well known for around the world. A popular form of Japanese style tattoo art was also inspired by the works of these great men and continues to show up as intricate and ancient style body art on many whom perhaps have not yet learnt of its origins.
But, is it sexy?
It’s not conventional, but it’s definitely sexy; it’s risqué, crass and eerily alluring. Bursting with colour and overtly exposed, you don’t feel like you’re invading an intimate moment between two lovers, but instead you’re invited in, to enjoy and relish the sexual liberation, and entwine yourself in this tender, fleshy moment.
Eyebrows will be raised, heart rates will quicken, and gasps will be heard; so, what are you waiting for? Whether it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Russell Square to the British museum, or you get your tickets online, this Shunga enchantment is definitely a must see.
Now proudly on show at The British Museum from 3rd October 2013- 5th January 2014, you can view a selection of these intriguing and unusual paintings and prints and enjoy a peek into the art of Ukiyo-e or ‘the floating world’ which aimed to break the idea of a mundane Japan and demonstrate a real and light-hearted image of its people. Depicting sensual scenes of couples in love; revealing an honest, carnal yearning in all its splendour, the artwork was designed to be a celebration of sexual pleasure, in tender and often humorous form.