The largest manga exhibition outside of Japan has opened with the British Museum playing host to hundreds of Japanese illustrations, comic books and graphic novels.
We were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour by Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousemaniere, IFAC Harida Curator of Japanese Arts at the British Museum, who worked to select and secure the pieces exhibited.
Exploring the origins of manga
The focus of British Museum’s Citi exhibition Manga is modern-day manga, or as the original character translation deems it ‘pictures run riot’, but the exhibition also explores its growth into the visual narrative art form that we know and love today.
One influence of manga featured by the exhibition includes 19th century artist Katsushika Hokusai’s drawings known as ‘Hokusai’s Manga’, a collection of sketches first published in 1814.
Another is Kawanabe Kyosai’s breath-taking 1880 Shintomiza Kabuki Theatre Curtain. A 17 x 4m long giant curtain, originally intended to be displayed between acts at the theatre. The curtain is painted with monsters, depicting the end of the working day in the theatre when the spirits inside the kabuki theatre box come alive at night.
“Kyosai’s painting blurs the worlds of reality and fantasy seamlessly, demonstrating the progression of Japanese storytelling into modern day manga. And to think – it took a drunken Kyosai only 4 hours to paint!”
Defining culture in the 21st century
“From serialised cartoon strips in magazines and newspapers in the 1920s, the medium has evolved to become an immersive form of storytelling, spanning multiple genres from sci-fi to romance and embracing universal causes such as LGBT+ rights,” explains Rousemaniere.
“Ask anyone in Japan aged over 30 about ‘Ashita no Joe’ or Tomorrow’s Joe, for example. Originally a sports manga, the 1960s comic affected so many, that people all over Japan held funerals for the character after his death in the final volume. Manga has the power to consume entire nations – it’s on posters around cities, it’s used to promote the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo next year, it’s all around us.”
Transporting fragile artwork
This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view many of these items which have had such a deep-set cultural effect on readers in Japan and worldwide.
Many items on loan for the exhibition, including Kyosai’s curtain, will likely never leave Japan again due to their fragile state. Working with the British Museum, IAG Cargo transported manga with the help of our Secure product, allowing handlers from the museum to fly with the exhibits to ensure extra care is taken around the delivery of these precious borrowed items.
The Citi exhibition Manga is showing at the British Museum from 23rd May until 26th August. IAG Cargo is the official logistics partner for the British Museum and helped transport over 200 pieces from Japan in time for the exhibition.