Three-eyed monsters, a serpent with eight heads, a monster cat, slimy fish creatures and a freaky bugged-eyed spider. Not to forget a kimono-clad woman with a stretchable head. The roster of folk horror creatures from ancient times is a grotesque - yet intriguing - one at Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters From Japan, an art exhibition on Japanese folk culture.
This exhibition, which is currently showing at the MIACC Gallery, Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) in Kuala Lumpur until Dec 3, offers visitors an accessible introduction to the world of yokai.
"To the Japanese, yokai are mysterious phenomena and weird creatures that have inhabited the country’s landscape, homes, folklore and imagination for many centuries. They can be evil or benign spirits, ranging from shape-shifting animals like foxes and badgers, who adopt human form to trick, bewitch or reward humans, to the vengeful ghosts of warriors killed in battle or women wronged by their husbands," reads a Japan Foundation description.
This touring show series, curated by Yumoto Koichi, the director emeritus of the Yumoto Koichi Memorial Japan Yokai Museum (Miyoshi Mononoke Museum), focuses on the history and “popularisation” of yokai culture.
The museum, located in Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan, owns a collection of over 5,000 artworks and objects that represent yokai. With the KL exhibition, you can get a glimpse of this vast collection.
At the MIACC Gallery, the Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters From Japan exhibition (free admission) features nearly 90 works (selected by the Miyoshi Mononoke Museum team), including hand scrolls, prints, picture books, temple statues, film posters and paintings. High-quality replicas and original prints have been combined for this exhibition.
Works from the Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons, a much-celebrated centuries-old tale of magical animals and shapeshifting creatures engaged in wild festivities, is one of the show's highlights. A long-necked woman ("rokurokubi") installation at the gallery adds to the yokai Instagram fun, especially if you can imagine her neck threading her way through the procession.
"Yokai can be described as a product of the imagination born from people's fear, awe, and anxiety toward nature an unknown presences that writhe within the darkness," said Yumoto in the exhibition's catalogue.
"For this reason, the yokai have taken on strangely grotesque and uncanny appearances, becoming a subject of people's fear," he added.
When Japan began actively adopting Western culture however, yokai came to be systematically discussed as an academic discipline, as non-scary yokai paraphernalia became more common, and yokai-related goods liked by children were included in the toys and collectible freebies sold at Japanese candy stores, proving to be widely popular.
Eventually, the yokai began making appearances in manga, anime, games and other media, affirming their place within modern society. Even today, Japan still has a culture of enjoying kaidan (ghost stories) in the summertime, with yokai seen dominating television and theatre screens across the country.
Yokai Parade introduces Japan’s yokai culture that extends to the present day through picture scrolls, and nishiki-e (Japanese woodblock print), as well as a diverse range of media, including toys and films.
This exhibition also features public programmes (a small fee required), including a "Monster Series Paper Puppet Workshop" on Nov 25 and 26, and a "Tote Bag Printing Workshop" on Dec 2 and 3.
Yokai Parade in Kuala Lumpur is organised by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, supported by MIA and Embassy of Japan. The exhibition will visit the Sabah Art Gallery in Kota Kinabalu from Dec 15 to Feb 4, 2024.
Yokai Parade: Supernatural Monsters From Japan is showing at MIACC Gallery, Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) City Campus, Jalan Ampang in KL until Dec 3. Open: Monday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Free admission. More info here.