By EUGENE SONG
Within the fast-paced, quotidian routine of lectures within UTokyo’s scholarly atmosphere, art may seem ambiguous, and often times, under-appreciated. One however only needs to catch a glimpse of students practicing their dance choreographies in front of the cafeteria, or overhear the resonating harmonies of student choirs to realize that artistic expression is very much present in Komaba campus. Among the most animated manifestations of students’ passion for art is Bi (美): a series of creative talks - a team of students that facilitates discussions on art by inviting artists from the contemporary Tokyo art scene.
On April 14, 2017, Bi successfully completed its eighth chapter, ‘art and gender’ on Komaba campus. The session was full of vital conversations that reconsidered notions of gender and expanded the meaning of art.
“I will begin by speaking from my own perspective as a female musician” said Maria Takeuchi, the first featured artist. As a multi-instrumental music producer, Takeuchi started off as a bass player, when she realized that “there weren’t enough established female artists I wanted to follow in new media art and music production.” Takeuchi confessed that she often found herself “underestimating female artists, comparing them to male artists.”
Image 0962: Students watching the behind the scenes video of Maria Takeuchi’s latest artistic project, AS.PHYX.IA. Photo by Abhishek Gupta.
A similar realization was shared by Jayda B, the second featured artist. As a DJ and the founder of ‘Bae Tokyo’ Jayda B noticed that “not only were there no female DJs, but the environments in the club scene were not made for the wider gender spectrum.”
DJ and founder of Bae Tokyo, Jayda B. Photo by Abhishek Gupta.
The commonalities between the two featured artists however, were not only limited to realization. Using their respective experiences of gender norms as sources of artistic inspiration, both artists developed novel ways to express the challenges and complexities of gender, as well as their convictions for how society should treat gender.
During the session, Takeuchi showcased her latest project AS.PHYX.IA - a cinematic blend of choreography, music and motion capture technology. Inspired by the powerful concept of a “mother in a battlefield,” the film explores themes of struggle, isolation and maternal love, thus, refuting ingrained gender stereotypes that underestimate women, while unapologetically embracing femininity and its strengths.
Multi-instrumental artist, Maria Takeuchi. Photo by Abhishek Gupta.
As well as its focus on gender, Jayda B’s Bae Tokyo expands the boundaries of art. Rather than limiting itself to a single genre of art, Bae Tokyo provides a platform for the junction of music and event management, supporting “djs and artists regardless of race, ethnicity and sexual identity.”
“As a woman myself, it is always so empowering to hear about the process and journey of other women in their craft and work”, said Manasa Sitaram, founder and former chair of Bi. “What I really appreciated about both speakers’ crafts is the inherent skill involved. In a world where the consistent rhetoric of women is labelled, ‘emotional’, it is wonderful that all our guests not only embraced that label but also backed it up with legitimate, hard skill. Who says women can’t do it all?”
The discussions did however gravitate towards femininity, despite the more intricate and larger theme of “gender.” Sitaram emphasized: “as wonderful as our speakers were, the session did not fully encompass the magnitude of a topic like art and gender. Crucial to any discussion on gender is to take note of intersectionality, the male presence, those who don’t subscribe to gender roles or labels at all, and the list goes on.”
On the other hand, this focus on femininity exemplified the fluidity of art, as well as Bi itself. Rather than giving unilateral lectures, Bi facilitates a discussion-friendly environment. Participants come in with uniquely rich sources of artistic and moral contemplation, and interact with each other. “As such,” said Sitaram, “the direction that ‘art and gender’ could have gone in is entirely dependent on those who attended, their backgrounds, perspectives and so on.”
It was during the discussion, when the audience voiced their personal insights, that I realized the often unnoticed intimacy of art in our lives. While the topic of gender is often discussed in purely academic contexts at university, it can (and should) also be approached through art and open dialogue. Indeed, “art does intersect seemingly every avenue of our lives,” said Sitaram. “It is important to embrace that”.