Event — IIAS/HKF Seminar

New Perspectives on (the Presentation of) Japanese Art I

The Heinz Kaempfer Fund and the International Institute for Asian Studies are proud to present the first seminar of a biennial series of seminars on Japanese art. With the New Perspectives series we aim to demonstrate that the study of Japanese art is very much alive and part of a global discussion. We especially invite students and (young) scholars to participate in this event!



Like the manifold aspects of art itself, the study of art has always reflected the mood, issues and questions of its times. During the past few decades immense shifts and changes have taken place, not only within artistic explorations and processes, but also in the attitudes and outlooks of scholars, curators, critics, policymakers and those involved in the art market. Hitherto suppressed voices are heard, uncomfortable truths are revealed, long-cherished standpoints are abandoned, different gazes are followed into new directions. These developments also reverberate within the study of Japanese art and have repercussions for the way in which Japanese art is presented and displayed.

There is a vast amount of ground to break and with the present seminar, the first of a biennial series, we seek to contribute to the discourse.

Registration required

Waiting List

Please note that the maximum number of registered attendees has been reached. You are still welcome to register. We will put you on the waiting list and inform you by e-mail if a place becomes available.

Attendance is free of charge. Coffee and tea will be provided during the day. Attendees will have to organize their own lunch.

Please note that this is an IN PERSON event on location only. It will NOT be streamed or recorded.


10.00 Registration, coffee/tea
10.45 Word of welcome

Keynote speaker: Mariko Murata, Kansai University, Osaka

Museum Orientalism revisited: Can we truly deconstruct the exotic gaze?


Luke Gartlan, University of St Andrews

On the business and materials of nineteenth-century Japanese photography

12.30 Lunch break (to be arranged by yourself)

Daan Kok, Wereldmuseum Leiden

How to frame a scroll painting: Changing attitudes in museum practice


Mio Wakita, Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna

On vision and display: Arts and culture in Meiji Japan

15.30 Coffee/tea break

Minna Valjakka, University of Helsinki

Transcultural conjunctions: The politics of identifications in contemporary Japanese art

16.45 Closure
17.00 - 18.00 Drinks at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS)



KEYNOTE Mariko Murata (Kansai University, Osaka)
Museum Orientalism revisited: Can we truly deconstruct the exotic gaze?

Identifying the Orientalist gaze embedded in museum exhibitions and collections is not new. However, recent trends in decolonizing museums require us to practically reconsider this issue, which is more complicated than it seems. For Japan, at least, this uneven gaze set upon the objects had immediately become a strategy to appeal to the West. In this sense, Orientalism and Self-Orientalism work with each other and the exotic gaze is complicit (see Koichi Iwabuchi, 1994). Then, how can we start to reconfigure or deconstruct this gaze? What is the difference between appreciating Japanese artworks and orientalising them? This presentation will explore Orientalism’s complexities in museums while investigating ways to begin addressing this gaze in museum practices.


Luke Gartlan (University of St Andrews)
On the business and materials of nineteenth-century Japanese photography

This paper presents a wide range of documents and materials across various archives – photographic, diplomatic, bureaucratic, and finally medical – to raise questions about the parameters of studies of photography and visuality. If nineteenth-century commercial photography in Japan was arguably the outcome of contested local and global markets, did these conditions extend to the production and import of essential chemicals and other requisite materials? How connected was the photographic trade with drug and chemical manufacture and what bureaucratic state structures were implemented to oversee and police these industries? This paper calls for closer dialogues between photographic history and other related fields of intellectual enquiry, including histories of business and chemical manufacture that established the conditions for photography’s rise and practice in nineteenth-century Japan.


Daan Kok (Wereldmuseum Leiden)
How to frame a scroll painting: Changing attitudes in museum practice

There is an obvious double layer in displaying a Japanese painting in the context of an ethnographic museum in Europe. A mimetic echo, if you will, of a private situation in which someone hangs up a scroll in a tokonoma for viewing pleasure, or the circumstance of a large religious scroll painting displayed for worshippers at a temple. Oddly, the museum has, historically, rarely been concerned with the ethnography of paintings and their use in the original Japanese context.

This presentation focuses on the early nineteenth-century collection of Japanese paintings in the Wereldmuseum Leiden (formerly the National Museum of Ethnology), the history of their display, associated documentation in contemporaneous sources, and (alterations to) their material form. More precisely, how these paintings were framed, both figuratively and literally. What we find in the museum, whether in storage or on display, is the result of selection and curation, over the course of decades and centuries of changing attitudes and academic perspectives. Where do we stand now? Have the museum and its visitors overcome historical preoccupations?


Mio Wakita (Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna)
On vision and display: Arts and culture in Meiji Japan

This presentation takes a closer look at one of the most critical phenomena of nineteenth-century culture and society: the advent of modern visual technologies. Highlighting the emergence of new visuality in Meiji Japan, it explores its wide-ranging impact on the fields of art and display practices in Meiji Japan. The new forms and modes of entertainment industry, exhibitions, and objects exemplify how the vision-oriented culture of the nineteenth century conditioned and stipulated the logics of production and display. The issue of display, furthermore, also became critical on various levels, especially in terms of gender- and socio-culturally specific settings.

By focusing on an often neglected aspect of Meiji culture, my aim is to reframe the Meiji visual and material culture and provide a new perspective for a different, nuanced reading of the histories of Meiji arts and culture.


Minna Valjakka (University of Helsinki)
Transcultural conjunctions: The politics of identifications in contemporary Japanese art

Over the past decade, the perceptions of transcultural studies have offered new ways of understanding how artistic processes are (re-)formulated in transregional contexts and within the globalization of art and art history. At the same time, the growing presence of Asian diaspora artists based in Europe has gained institutional recognition and support. While the quest for a more diversified art scene has strengthened the ‘multicultural approach’ in the arts, some limitations of identity politics prevail in both institutional and aesthetic spheres. Contemporary Japanese artists working or exhibiting in Europe experience somewhat contradictory expectations regarding (self-)Orientalism, (re-)presentations of ‘Japaneseness’, and (re-)engagements with ‘Eastern’ cultural heritage. Inspired by Monica Juneja’s approach to transculturation as “a keystone of a critical globality” in order to transcend the predominant parochialisms of art history (see Juneja, 2023) this paper explores how Miyuki Okuyama (b. 1973) and Nishiko (b. 1981) experience and navigate these contemporary contingencies and challenges of identifications in their artistic practices.


The Heinz M. Kaempfer Fund

The Heinz M. Kaempfer Fund was founded in 1989 with the aim to promote the study of the Japanese arts through, among other means, the provision of financial support for young scholars. The Heinz Kaempfer Fund was host and organiser of the following conferences:

For more information, please see https://www.societyforjapaneseart.org/hkf