Morimura Self Portraits: An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo  

I have long enjoyed Yasumasa Morimura's photographic self-portraits, which cheekily and subversively examine famous masterpieces of Western art. His latest works are of himself portrayed as the artist Frida Kahlo. These works, however, are more homage than satire which seemed to dominate his earlier works. Perhaps because of this, they are more powerful.

"Similarities? You and I? We would seem worlds apart. You were born in Japan and I in Mexico, and born into different times as well. Not to mention that you are a man and I a woman. Have you ever given birth to a child? I suffered infantile paralysisÉ I was seriously injured in a traffic accidentÉ[and suffered back pain]. You have no idea of the agony." States artist, Frida Kahlo, in a fictitious conversation within the mind of Yasumasa Morimura. Recorded in the exhibition's catalogue, Morimura's conversation with his alter ego Kahlo also asks some difficult questions such as "aren't you perhaps just using me and my name? Could [your work] not be seen as a clever ploy to sell yourself on the good graces of a famous person?"

In the past 10 years Frida Kahlo has achieved near cult status as the intensely sexual, romantic and tragically 'exotic' creative Goddess of the 20th century. Her legendary list of lovers included Leon Trotsky, Diego Riviera, Isamu Noguchi and many women. Her work is collected by the who's who of the rich and famous including Madonna.

Over the past 10 years Morimura has spent time pondering Frida Kahlo's life which was marked by passion and pain. Morimura believes universally people are moved by Kahlo's love and art and "feel something in common with her". Born in Osaka in 1951 Morimura Yasumasa graduated from Kyoto City University of Art in 1978 and has built worldwide interest in his art.

Morimura uses a combination of staging and photographic techniques to recreate his own image as a part of Frida Kahlo-style paintings. These include elaborate make-up, costumes and props such as headdresses, necklaces and stuffed parrots. He is a skilful creator of subtle lighting, painted sets and mini-dioramas for their backgrounds. Then by various computer designs, cut and paste, and other darkroom techniques Morimura brings all of these elements together to create his photographic self-portrait.

There is a seductive and reassuring quality about the art of Morimura. By being familiar with the famous subjects of his work, from Rembrandt to Marilyn Monroe, we are given a glimpse through him, beyond the original art, to broader issues. Morimura's art highlights his differences to the subjects -- particularly his 'Asianness'. No matter how careful is his camouflage of face paint and backdrop, his own image shines unmistakably through. Through his disguise as others Morimura starkly reveals himself Ð in doing so he also shows us much about ourselves.


through September 30 Hara Museum of Contemporary Art 4-7-25 Kitashinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tel: 03-3445-0651 11:00 - 17:00 (20:00 Wed.) Closed Mon. Adults ´1000; Under 15 ´500; JR Shinagawa Station