Cats in Japanese and Western Art
I, the Cat. Cats in Japanese and Western Art
is Poland’s, and possibly the world’s, first exhibition offering such a broad and varied coverage of feline themes. The idea to create the exhibition I, the Cat. Cats in Japanese and Western Art
at the Manggha Museum has been prompted by the masterly ukiyo-e
prints depicting various ‘cat matters’ found in Feliks ‘Manggha’ Jasieński’s collection. While the group is relatively small compared to other themes represented in Jasieński’s collection, such as ‘pictures of flowers and birds’ or landscapes, it excellently illustrates feline motifs in Japanese art: beautiful women with a cat, playing cats, and above all bakeneko yūjo
(courtesans turned into cat monsters), in addition to cat demons in Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s works. In the exhibition, they are accompanied by characters from Japanese legends and popular culture – manekineko
and Hello Kitty, juxtaposed with Western perceptions of cats, their symbolism, interpretations, and generative presence in culture. There are also Filip Pągowski’s designs for Rei Kawakubo’s BLACK Comme des Garçons and A Plan for Tokyo, 2020
by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The exhibition shows works from various times, ranging from the 16th to the 21st centuries, and executed in different techniques. As it is commonly known, cats roam along their own paths. Similarly, works relating to them can hardly be categorized under broad labels, whether thematically or chronologically. And though they are shown here in ten arbitrarily defined and named spaces – ‘Cats in Kimono... and Popular’, ‘The Cat in the Fashion House’, ‘And Who’s Above Me?’, ‘Cat Concerts and Cat Funerals’, ‘The Cat and Children’, ‘The Cat and the Artist’, ‘Puss in Boots’, ‘The Cat and Advertising’, ‘The Cat and the Girl’, and ‘I, the Cat in the 21st Century’ – they can be freely moved around, much like Lego bricks, to build one’s own structures and constructs. They can follow their own paths and illustrate various problems. The spaces just provide guidelines for finding one’s way around the feline/human themes. They signal, formulate, and posit questions that we have to find answers to on our own.