Bodies of the Other

Largely as a result of western powers’ colonial expansion, East Asia was forced into closer contact with other parts of the world in the nineteenth century. Westerners increased in number in treaty ports and major cities, and introduced photography to countries such as Japan and China.

The technology satisfied these foreigners’ interest in capturing the likeness of Asian bodies, and studio portraits of Japanese or Chinese people as ethnographic types were often compiled into souvenir albums. Meanwhile, Asian styles and tastes became fashionable among westerners who experienced them firsthand while living there. The craze soon spread across Europe and America, as manifested in japonaiserie (depiction of Japanese subjects in western art and design) and japonisme (influence of Japanese aesthetics on western art and design). While the western gaze was cast upon Asian bodies, Asians, in turn, reciprocated the look upon westerners who constituted “the other” for them. Motifs of western bodies abounded in East Asian art and artifacts made for export.



Image: Weller Pottery. Zanesville, Ohio, 1872–1948. Vase. c. 1903. Glazed ceramic. 13 1/8 x 6 1/4 in. (33.3 x 15.9 cm). Gift of Sybil and Alfred Nadel (Sybil Gottlieb, class of 1957)