Opening tomorrow is Souzou, an exhibition of Japanese outsider artists at the Wellcome Collection in London (photos from the media view are here). “Souzou”
has two meanings in Japanese: depending on how it’s written it can stand either
for creation or for imagination. “Outsider Art”, on the other hand, is a term coined in 1972 by Roger Cardinal for raw art (art brut), assigned to creative expressions uncontaminated by culture or made by autodidacts.  In this case it refers to works of 46 contemporary Japanese artists/patients diagnosed with various cognitive,
behavioral and development disorders and residing in special care institutions.
Their work can be a part of their therapy, an expression of their feelings and desires, or a result of their obsessions. Their work is non-commercial and financially they
are dependent on social welfare.

Perhaps not a theme that everyone immediately feels drawn to, but the exhibition is definitely worth seeing and the works are surprisingly fresh, beautifully crafted and very poetic. If this still doesn’t persuade you to make the trip, this might: the outsider art category – and more broadly craft and making –  is becoming increasingly researched and exhibited. Another exhibition of self-taught artists opens this summer at Hayward and even the upcoming Venice Biennale will see a selection of work by outsider artists as part of the International Pavilion show “The Encyclopaedic Palace”. One of the artists selected for the Biennale is 31 years old Shinichi Sawada, diagnosed with autism, whose spiked sea monsters and demons are also shown here at Wellcome.

To follow the advise of Shamita Sharmacharja, the curator of the exhibition, we let the artworks speaks for themselves – just look at the photos and enjoy. These were amongst our favourites:

Ryosuke Otsuji‘s interpretation of the domestic Okinawan lion sculptures; Shoichi Koga‘s brilliant newspaper-sculpted fantasy figures; Takahiro Shimoda‘s pyjamas painted with images of her favorite food; Takako Shibata‘s ever-expanding portrait of her absent mother; or Shota Katsube‘s minuscule action figures army. One of the most amazing works is made by the youngest artist from the show, the 17 years old Norimitsu Kobuko. Shown as “work in progress”, it depicts a map of the world made entirely from the artist’s imagination and internet search. When completed, it will be 10 metres long.

Thematically, the exhibition is divided into 6 overlapping sections: Language, which deals with the difficulty of verbal communication; Making, showing the love of material and therapeutic aspects of creativity; Representation and Relationships deal with people and objects surrounding the artists; Culture questions the concept of outsider art being a result of pure interior thoughts; and Possibility presents artistic endeavors to restructure the surrounding world. The exhibition closes with a room of films, where you can contemplate the meaning and the context of what you’ve experienced.

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan runs at Wellcome from March 28th till June 30th 2013.

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