体 Modern Images of the Body from East Asia

February 2–August 26, 2018

Drawing mostly from the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection, 体 Modern Images of the Body from East Asia looks at the multifaceted representations of the body in East Asia from the nineteenth century to the present. The character 体, used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages, serves as the point of departure for this project. First, it refers to the material existence of a person, such as in 身体 (human body) and 体格 (physique). In an abstract sense, it also connotes substance, form, and organizing principles, often conceived in collective and national contexts, such as in 体系 (system) and 国体 (national polity). The exhibition, therefore, explores not only portrayals of physical appearances in East Asia, but also how these images have come to symbolize identities and challenge conceptions of humankind.

Organized chronologically and thematically, the exhibition has four sections which respectively examine: 1) Westerners’ ethnographic interest in Asian bodies and Asian artifacts of Western bodies made for export; 2) local and global impact of wars and politics in the East Asian region; 3) cultivation of nationalism and common sense of belonging through normalizing diverse peoples and regulating public spaces; 4) artistic expressions that seek to transcend corporeal boundaries and question anthropocentric views. As a whole, the exhibition aims to open up multidisciplinary inquiries into issues such as colonial history and Orientalism, global exchange of material and knowledge, rise of nation states, myths and spectacles, body politics, and biological and technological evolutions.

The exhibition is supported by the Nolen Endowed Fund for Asian Art Initiatives.