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Graffiti on a Storehouse Wall

Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Asian Art

In the early 1840s, the Japanese government passed laws to limit what it saw as excessive freedom of expression among Japan’s urbanites. The laws banned the overt representation of current events in works of art and theater. Although actor images were still allowed, adding written information about the actor or his current production was forbidden. The artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi poked fun at those restrictions when he released a series of prints that purported to illustrate a wall covered with graffiti but actually contained multiple actor portraits, many accompanied by notes that hinted at the roles they were playing. The artist chose a specific term for the graffiti, nitakaragura, because it incorporates the Japanese phrase nita kara, meaning “don’t they look like?” Apparently the joke was subtle enough, because two different government censors left their seals of approval on the page.
MEDIUM Color woodblock print on paper
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 1847
    PERIOD Edo Period
    DIMENSIONS approx.: 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm)  (show scale)
    CREDIT LINE Gift of John C. Copoulos
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Central page from the triptych known as "Scribblings on the Storehouse Wall" (Nitakaragura kabe no mudagaki). Vertical oban-sized print depicting a wall covered with graffiti, mostly consisting of thinly disguised portraits of well-known actors in celebrated roles. At the center is the figure of a dancing cat. This is the central page of a triptych, one of several groups (2 triptychs and 1 diptych, plus an homage by Kunichika that references the work of Kuniyoshi) of graffiti images that the artist made following new censorship laws that forbade the representation of actors. The Japanese title, Nitakaragura, is a pun, as it sounds like the phrase "nita kara," meaning "don't they resemble them?" The "dancing cat" triptych, as this group is known, differs from the other triptych in its inclusion of the lower section of the wall, with its less artistic scribblings. The actors have been identified, running clockwise from the top center: - Ichimura Uzaemon XII in the role of Tsukimoto Inaba Kosuke, in the play Onoe Baiju Ichidai Banasi - Matsumoto Koshiro VI in the role of Yokogawa Kakuha in Yoshitsune senbon sakura - Nakamura Utaemon IV in the role of Sato Tadanobu Kakuha in Yoshitsune senbon sakura - Bando Shuka - Sawamura Ujuro Jagatara Sanzo in the play Sawamura ski hakata no hanabishi - Ichikawa Shinsha Th publisher for this series is Iba-ya Sensaburo.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1798–1861). Graffiti on a Storehouse Wall, 1847. Color woodblock print on paper, approx.: 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of John C. Copoulos, 2016.12 (Photo: , CUR.2016.12.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, CUR.2016.12.jpg., 2016
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
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    Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1798–1861). <em>Graffiti on a Storehouse Wall</em>, 1847. Color woodblock print on paper, approx.: 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of John C. Copoulos, 2016.12 (Photo: , CUR.2016.12.jpg)