Araki's belated Seoul debut

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Araki's belated Seoul debut

Wherever Araki Nobuyoshi has gone, controversy -- and sometimes censorship -- has followed.

Araki (he prefers to be called by his first name) is one of the mostly widely known photographers living today.

Yet before this month he had never had a solo exhibition in Korea. "Novel Seoul, Story Tokyo" changes that. The show, which opened last weekend at the Ilmin Museum of Art in downtown Seoul, is an expansion of his exhibition "Novel Seoul" which was displayed earlier in Tokyo and Fukuoka.

The exhibition includes 1,560 photographs, including a spectacular display of 1,000 Polaroid shots of Korean and Japanese skies and 48 images from his famed kinbaku series.

His studies of the female body are immensely popular, although they are no longer scandalous as they were just a decade ago. In 1992, his exhibition "Photomania Diary" was closed by the police for obscenity, and Araki was arrested for disorderly conduct and fined 300,000 yen ($2,500). A year later, the curator of the Tokyo Parco Gallery was arrested because of the allegedly lurid content of a catalogue he published featuring Araki's works. The organizers of the Seoul exhibition, in fact, are recommending that the kinbaku series not be seen by anyone under 18 years of age.

Araki works like a mischievous child who plays with his camera, but also is like a journalist who investigates his subjects. Araki's childlike curiosity and unprejudiced perception produce images that truthfully reflect society.

Araki was born in 1940 in a red-light district in the northeast of Tokyo. Despite an impoverished background, he attended Chiba University majoring in photography and motion pictures.

He has told interviewers that his childhood experiences helped him gain a "feel for the life and death." He began taking photographs of perishable goods, but quickly focused on the female figure. His initial works were erotic, but his depictions became more provocative and violent following his wife Yoko's death from ovarian cancer in 1990.

Araki produced his kinbaku series ?bondage using ropes ?after his wife's death. Art critics have said that the kinbaku photos reflect Araki's tortured emotions rather than erotic feelings. They note that his erotic images are often juxtaposed with empty cityscapes, depicting modern Japan's cold society.

Today, Araki is considered one of the leading postmodernist artists. His photos are particularly popular in Europe, the United States and Japan.

An enormous, high-quality retrospective of his work, "Araki," was published by Taschen last month in a limited edition of 2,500, all signed by Araki.

"Novel Seoul, Story Tokyo" is a collection of Araki's photographs shot while visiting Korea over the past two decades. Among the photos are such classics as "Sentimental Journey," "Flowers," "Food" and "Sexual Desire: Women in Color." The Seoul exhibition includes several images of Japan to contrast and compare the two countries.

Araki will visit Seoul and address a forum at at 3 p.m. on Nov. 30 on the 21st-floor auditorium of the DongA Media Center. The program will be hosted by the Korean art critic Lee Young-jun and Japanese photography critic Iizawa Kotaro. It will feature an additional showcase of Araki's work, "Arakinema," and will be followed by a performance by the Korean pop singer Psy.

"Novel Seoul, Story Tokyo" runs until Feb. 23 at the Ilmin Museum of Art in downtown Seoul. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (02) 2020-2062.

by Inēs Cho

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