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Japanese Erotic Art: The Hidden World of Shunga (英語) ペーパーバック – 2013/12/2
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Unlike earlier books that have tended to focus on individual artists, this new publication has a thematic structure, covering the whole spectrum of sexual practice and expression, including adultery and jealousy, voyeurism, orgasm, and violent sex and death. Using images from his own unparalleled collection, Ofer Shagan brings the rich and vast world of shunga to modern view, highlighting the messages, symbols, and humor that often appear in the background but are fundamentally significant for understanding the messages in the art.
Ofer Shagan has lived in Japan for many years. He is the author of several books and articles on shunga and other art subjects.
The author, Ofer Shagan, is apparently the owner of the world's largest (by far) collection of Japanese erotic art. Let's hope he publishes lots more of these not-before-seen images.
What's not: The minor thing is weak commentary on specific images. There is a bit, not a lot, but segregation of text from pictures makes cross-referencing a nuisance. The major thing is the sizes of many pictures. This is a thick book of "coffee table" size, but many of the prints appear at no more than postage-stamp size - literally stamp-sized, take a ruler and measure them. Even some of the larger pictures come across as undersized, when dozens of entwined figure crowd a space you can cover with one hand. Please - this is shunga! I want to see how the figures connect, who has what where, details of the lush robes and interiors, jokes and printing minutiae, and would prefer to see them without a magnifier.
Really, it's a great cross-section, divided by theme, and providing more breadth than any other collection I've come across. If I could actually see all the pictures, I'd recommend this one ahead of any two other collections, and there are some good ones out there. A bit more selectivity in which pictures to include and a bit less white space surrounding the reproductions would have made this a far better buy. As it is, I must love this one despite its very serious drawbacks.
That being said, there are some concerns.
Shagen has set out here to counter Timon Screech's argument that shunga is pornography. His argument, instead, is that shunga is educational. The truth lies somewhere between the two positions, but probably more to the bawdy side of the scale than the education.
The layout is often a challenge. Many shunga prints are quite full of design and color. The size they are reproduced here in often requires a magnifying glass or a close look. As well, the illustrations are keyed to notes in the text, but the reference numbers are small and often the prints are arranged out of sequence with the text. This is annoying more than anything else.
Thematically, Shagan missed a comment on shunga versions of "The Eight Views of Omi". Given the number of times this device was used, mention should have been made. As well, the text is often cursory and we are left with little sense of how Shagen can argue that an image is one thing when it seems to be something else. I enjoy the minimal text approach, but in some instances more was needed.
Finally, there are few images where I disagree with Shagen's read of a print. I am certain that everyone familiar with the subject will find something to disagree with.
However, nothing in my reservations should distract from the value of the book. The comprehensiveness alone merits getting a copy.