An exhibition of 75 Japanese posters gives a glimpse of Japan while it was witnessing changes induced by the bubble economy

Aesthetic is an integral part of the Japanese way of life, a fact that is evident in different aspects of their culture ranging from Nihonga paintings to the elaborate tea ceremony, Haiku poetry to Manga comics, from ceramics to Japanese tie-and-dye techniques. Japanese aesthetics come to the fore once again in the form of Japanese posters, an exhibition currently on in the Capital. Not much is known about the history of Japanese posters, unlike Polish posters, which were so distinctive and powerful that they’ve come to be classified as the Polish school of posters.

To disseminate information about the legacy of poster art in Japan is one of the objectives of the ongoing exhibition, “Contemporary Japanese Posters”, organised at The Japan Foundation. And it is rather nice to have this sort of quiet exhibition go on through the peak summer time when the exhibition calendar is not crowded, affording much time to an enthusiast to make a trip to the exhibition venue.

The exhibition is divided into three phases, and the second phase has just begun. The reason for splitting it into three parts is that the gallery space is not big enough to accommodate 75 posters at once. But all of them deal with the changes Japanese society witnessed during the bubble economy.

A spurt in business and financial growth led ace designers like Kiyoshi Awazu, Kazumasa Nagai, Makoto Nakamura and Keisuke Nagatomo to take up a wide range of issues, like environment, culture and beauty. “The exhibition about Japanese posters presents the change in Japanese society at the time of the bubble economy. At that time, when the economy started growing or expanding, the companies started feeling the importance of advertising. At that time, the designers started exploring innovative ways of advertising. In a way, it also reflects the society at that time…” says Yojiro Tanaka, Director of Japanese Language & Japanese Studies at The Japan Foundation, of the posters made between 1980 and 1990.

Different styles and concerns catered to various needs of the time. So if on the one hand Makoto Nakamura, working as a designer with Shiseido Cosmetic, was creating glamorous posters for the hi-end beauty brand, on the other was Kazumasa Nagai, expressing his concerns for endangered wildlife. Kenshiro Takami, curator of the travelling exhibition, writes in the catalogue that radical in the 1970s, the Japanese posters came to be more artistic than before. The statement gets substantiated by what’s on display, for instance, the graphic art-inspired posters of Masayoshi Nakajo or the posters of Keisuke Nagatomo that use illustrations in poster colours. Nagatomo’s community generated work for a radio station in Osaka is particularly interesting. Though it was Yusaku Kamekura who is considered the pioneer of poster art in Japan, everybody in the community of designers enriched the field with their unique contribution. “The community of designers that were growing and exploring put a touch of art in the advertising. Thus, they emphasised the importance of not only advertising but also introduced art in advertising,” says Tanaka. Kamekura, who addressed the issues of freedom and the Hiroshima bombings, is also part of the exhibition.

The ushering of globalisation is also reflected in some of the posters created for international meetings and expositions. Then there are a number of posters in the exhibition drafted to promote art and cultural events happening around town, like the Pan-Pacific Design Congress ’89 Tokyo, World Design Expo ’89, Festival of Japanese Theatre, etc.

(The exhibition is on at The Japan Foundation, Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, till July 31.)