• 26 Apr 2018

From April 10th to July 15th 2018, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris invites you to open the Asian doors of hell. The exhibition “Ghosts and hells” explores the figure of the ghost and the place of horror in Asia through religious Art, cinema, contemporary creation and Manga.

Woman looking like an Asian ghost

© Pexels

The “superstar” ghosts of Asia

“This exhibition was designed a little like a film (…) about the Asian superstar ghosts” said Curator Julien Rousseau in an interview he had with Les Inrocks. Indeed, the idea is to go from the oldest representations of hell and ghosts in local cultures of South East and Oriental Asia to better understand its contemporary reflections. The most present ghosts in the exhibition remain contemporary ones since it has been represented several times in theatre and cinema. However, the Buddhist paintings and prints by the Japanese Old Master Hokusaï are also part of the exhibition. Such an artistic and historic base enables the exhibition to develop a perspective on the evolution of the Asian representations of horror. As a result, it is like a hell in its Buddhist meaning that is to say a transition ritual. “Hell in Buddhism is more similar to the concept of Purgatory (…). One does not stay there for eternity” explains Julien Rousseau.

The ghost of Oiwa-san in 1831-1832 by Hokusaï

The ghost of Oiwa-san, 1831-1832, Hokusaï © Sailko

Multiple artistic ways for multifaceted ghosts

The exhibition purposely covers a wide range of artistic media in the representation of ghosts in Asia. Even though the prints are mainly portraits of ghosts in the Kabuki theatre, ghost paintings on the other hand appears in the 17th century. Indeed, ghost stories are depicted on large rollers for spiritualism sessions. Among the major Artworks that are presented as part of the exhibition there is a painting by Thai Artist Anupong Chantorn that criticizes Buddhism’s downward slides. “This canvas made with a composition of monks’ robes reinterprets the theme of damned monks and the image of the starving revenant to better criticize the commercial downward spiral of Buddhism in contemporary Thailand. (…) This exhibition tries to present the interpretation the Artists have on the ghosts of their own culture” explains Julien Rousseau.

Oiwa coming from a lantern by Kuniyoshi

Oiwa coming from a lantern © Kuniyoshi

The renewal of Asian ghosts through pop culture

In the middle of the 20th century the Yokai meaning monsters and ghosts were given back credibility thanks to the Manga culture. Indeed, at the end of the Edo era, they almost disappeared from all artistic representations. Artists then abandoned this theme prior to its reintroduction centuries later through pop culture. The figure of the ghost evolved step by step and split in two. It is no longer only a synonym of fear. In fact, the idea of a beneficial ghost is more and more present in its contemporary image. The exhibition aims at giving the opportunity to an audience more used to western culture to better understand the deeper meaning of revenants and hell in Asia. In order to put in the spotlight all the diversity of the cultural representations of ghosts in Asia, the Musée du Quai Branly designed a path with 3D sound.

Read our article about the nex exhibition at the Gobelins Gallery about tapestries here.

Sources : Les Inrocks, France Culture and Le Monde