New Kids on the Block: Traditional Japanese Woodblock Printing Finds a New Audience with Ukiyo-e Heroes
February 12 – July 26, 2019
Auditorium Gallery, level 1
Exhibition curated by Dr. Jack Stoneman, Associate Professor in the BYU Asian and Near Eastern Languages Department.
As a kid growing up in rural Indiana, I fell in love with video games, most of which had their origins in Japan. I escaped into the world of heroes, competition, and fun that Japanese gaming offered. Later, I was blessed to serve an LDS mission in the Tokyo area, where I fell in love with Japan and the Japanese people. Then, while a student at Brigham Young University, I had the opportunity to study Japan’s culture and history alongside my major field—animation. I began to wonder if there was a way to bring all the places, people, and characters I loved into one medium.
For hundreds of years, Japanese woodblock printmakers worked in a thriving popular art scene. Their prints depicted heroes, villains and monsters, spanning every genre from satire, to romance, to horror. It was all part of the ukiyo 浮世, or “floating world” culture. Inventive and fast-paced, ukiyo culture was the big movement of its day. That tradition has continued through the centuries, down to our modern day, when Japan is still known for its vibrant creativity. This heritage is especially evident in Japan’s video game industry. Boss fights. Invulnerable heroes. Holy swords. Even the classic double-jump can be traced back to centuries-old Japanese legends.
Long story short: The Japanese games we love are just a new chapter in an ancient, enduring culture.
To celebrate Japan’s contribution to video games, I took my favorite game characters and returned them to the ukiyo-e 浮世絵 woodblock-print style. Modern costuming has been traded for the traditional, but the essence of each character remains, proving that you can’t take the ukiyo out of these modern pop icons.
For more information and more of his work, visit Jed Henry’s website: ukiyoeheroes.com