June 18 – October 16, 2016 | Drury Gallery | Curated by Barry Till

The exhibition offers about one hundred erotic works of art from China and Japan.  These works contain sexual content and may not be suitable for all audiences.

Most early Chinese erotic images were quite tame, but by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) erotica became more available.  There were illustrations in mild romantic albums and explicit images in Chinese medicine manuals which provided some awareness.  Also ivory carvings of nude women began making an appearance as well as semi-nude ceramic images, some of which were engaged in sexual embrace. This exhibition will include erotic ivory and ceramic sculptures as well as an amazing set of 19th century ceramic tiles and their painted box containers, which have never been seen before in a public gallery. There will also be reverse portraits on glass and mirrors which would have been hung in bordellos  In addition there will be shoes for bound feet, which were considered exceptionally erotic for Chinese men of the time.

The Japanese erotic art in the exhibition is mainly comprised of shunga or pillow images in woodblock print format.

Shunga pictures were an acceptable subject in Japan during the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods.  These prints were an integral part of the Japanese ukiyo-e print tradition.  Almost all the great ukiyo-e masters designed erotic prints, partially for economic reasons as they sold well and also they were considered by the print artists to be a vital element of their art. It did not detract from their prestige as artists.

Shunga scenes varied from the first tender advances of young love to the brutal violations of dark and terrible debauchery.  Shunga undoubtedly served several purposes, from helping to train inexperienced courtesans to arousing their prospective clients and in some cases as a sexual guide for educating newlyweds. Although the genitalia were almost always greatly exaggerated in size, shunga prints show the artist’s acute knowledge of the human anatomy. Shunga was probably enjoyed by both men and women of all classes. Superstitions and customs surrounding shunga suggest that it was considered a lucky charm against death for samurai who sometimes carried shunga prints in their helmets. It was also considered to be a protection against fire in merchant warehouses and the home.