Yasumasa Morimura: the theater of identity

When I entered university I immediately realized that I was not a good painter. I couldn’t draw as well as the rest of the students and I found my best way of artistic expression in photography.

Morimura, like Marcel Duchamp. dying

Through a work rich in concepts and dualities, adopting strategies that appropriate the image of famous characters from the history of cinema and art, and icons of universal culture of all times, it has evolved in a trajectory that has produced great admiration in the field of art, being highlighted within the group of great artists who interpret the history of art through photomontages made with digital technique, included in the group of authors who from the seventies used appropriationist methods. In Dan Cameron’s terminology, he is part of a broad glocal movement – an anglicism defined by reference to both global and local factors – that includes artists with strong cultural and sexual identities. Without playing at disguise or banal provocation, raising visual reflections moving away from conventions. Reinterpreting the pop culture of the western world, appropriating it in a subversive way, raising the marginal concept to the height of the universal.

Photography Blinded by the light. dying

He considers himself the conceptual son of Andy Warhol in extreme forms that combine parody and homage, recreating them, showing them through himself in a kind of self-portraits where he gives room for the appropriation of identity and image. Morimura’s work can be reminiscent of the representations in the work of Cindy Sherman, with whom she stood out in a parallel trajectory in time, both use similar elements to configure the realization of their works, despite the fact that she focuses more on stereotypes In the beginning, he also used the image of Monica Vitti and Anna Magnani in his Untitled Film Stills series, made between 1977 and 1980, addressing the visual language of films from the 40s and 50s of the last century.

Brothers (A Late Autumn Prayer) from 1991. morimura

eroticism and death

In all her work there are notable dualities: tradition and contemporaneity, the feminine self and the masculine self, East and West, painting and photography. All this revolving around an important concept that absolutely marks her entire story: identity, questioning his vision of sexuality, denouncing tax positions that could unbalance his project. Two different artists fluctuate through all of his work: Marilyn Monroe and Yukio Mishima, turned into characters that are part of a popular and cultural mythology of eroticism and death. A Marilyn in mourning and a Mishima who strives to be extremely masculine. She was killed by America and he by the postwar.

The theater of identity


Extravagant and prolific, the Japanese Yasumasa Morimura (Osaka, 1951), proposes in his speech a debate between cultures when he becomes the Mona Lisa, Che Guevara, Marcel Duchamp, the young woman with a pearl and Caravaggio’s Medusa, among all of them. those that configure a conceptual vision of inspiration and imagination through the great figures that are part of the collective imagination, giving them oriental traits, their own traits. The human genres arise exploring the notions ascribed to the ego and narcissism created from sociocultural influences. He carries out a constant exercise of appropriation, reinterpretations of the great masterpieces of universal art through photomontages in which he uses digital tools, creating and modifying spaces using his own image to make a transcript of cross-dressing, becoming each of the characters with his own identity to which he gives a new look based on the cliché we know, appropriating what is not his in an intrusive way, dramatizing his look through humor, as if searching for himself. From otherness, his interest could lie in inquiring about his own identity.


According to an interview with the writer and cultural journalist Jacinta Cremades for the publication Tendencies in the art market, Morimura answers the question: How are his works interpreted in Japan and in the West? “In the same way, although it is true that Westerners look at them more logically than Easterners.”

Cremades, a French writer of Spanish origin, daughter of the Catalan playwright Jaime Salom, describes it this way: «You have to make an effort to be able to hear the tiny voice that you emit when you speak, hardly moving your lips. He dresses elegantly, he always wears suits in black tones, with a red checkered shirt and a scarf around his neck with white polka dots ».

my job is me

In the image that he projects in his photomontages, he always maintains a characterization of the character showing a narcissistic attitude.

He literally enters the skin of the existing characters in universal works of art where his face appears, impersonating each of the faces of the different works, this is why he has manifested in him a desire to steal, to to copy, but the fundamental thing about this appropriation is the dialogue that is established between the work of both, that of the painting that it imitates and its own vision. My job is me.


He built his first historical self-portrait in 1985 with the image of Van Gogh, to which he has returned on different occasions throughout his career. Fascinated by the self-portrait, which is the confirmation of the artist’s existence, endowing it with critical elements that give it greater meaning, he conveys in his works the impact of facing beauty in the face of one’s own originality and the copy, instinctively developing lascivious feelings. where an involvement with exalted cross-dressing arises, subtly shedding his personality to assume a provocative narcissistic image, through the sensuality that he has supplanted, creating questions before the viewer, where the concept of identity is manifested at all times. He is not interested in being classified as a photographer, despite the fact that he uses a camera as a work tool. He considers that his works are a kind of surreal objet trouvé that are closer to an idea of ​​performance than to a basic project of photography, judging the body as subject and object. Posing and acting for Morimura means creating, beyond the egocentrism contained in the realization and result of his work. It is significant to note that in the Japanese language there is no term that is equivalent to the word “person.”

nippon cha cha cha

Toshimi Takahara, Morimura’s wife, categorically affirms the reason why she fell in love with him: «His purity. Although he is 71 years old, he is still a child ».

To this purity must be added the extravagance and sharpness that he displays and that exalts his work by getting into paintings and photographs of scenes created by others, stealing, appropriating what is not his.

Representative of staged photography, he thinks that when an artist becomes a product it is when he will master the key to success. In her performance Nippon cha cha cha, she makes a complex reflection on her personal history that tries to hide the Japanese tradition, represented by her mother, positioning herself alongside the American culture that her father instilled in her.


In the Sister series, made in 1991, she opted for a harsh criticism of elite Japanese women who seem to live obsessed with the socio-economic symbols of the West, fascinated with the fashion of big companies like Chanel and Vuitton. In the 1995-1996 series Actresses, she turned into a vision of Audrey Hepburn in a sequence from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, into Marilyn Monroe posing for a calendar; characterized as Brigitte Bardot driving a Harley Davidson or Catherine Deneuve in a frame from Belle de jour, transferred to a Japanese tea house, among others. It is a work that brings together a set of about 60 images intentionally reproducing a hybrid between Japanese and Western culture. He has been ranked as the most internationally recognized Japanese photographer. In 1996, Self portrait-after Marilyn Monroe, he carried out one of the great temptations of his that he was always obsessed with, an extensive series of revisits of Marilyn Monroe’s portraits. He made it inevitable as a fanatic follower of Warhol’s work.

The new whims

With little inspiration, he rewrites Goya’s Los caprichos, making a personal vision of fifteen etchings with images, I would say unfortunate, that have little or nothing to do with the Goyaesque universe. These works could be seen at the Juana de Aizpuru Gallery in Madrid.

Las Meninas

Due to his fascination for Diego de Velázquez’s masterpiece, one of the sublime iconic jewels of Spanish painting, in 2014 Yasumasa Morimura created a reinterpretation of Las Meninas, a painting that has been revisited by countless artists such as Botero, Picasso, Witkin, Dalí, Equipo Crónica, Sussman, Ballester, etc. For his work Las Meninas are reborn at night, he uses the rooms of the Prado Museum as a stage, carrying out an investigation, creating a new narrative by altering the distribution of the characters in the original composition, assuming the role of each one of them, trying to respond to the questions posed by Velázquez in relation to authorship, space and perspective. In another of the pieces in this work, Morimura signifies himself, for the first time, without characterizing himself, appearing as himself, outside the painting, as another visitor in the room, admiring the paintings. The artist used Velázquez’s imagery for the first time in 1990, personifying himself in some of the characters in the painting.


Appropriating Western culture, Yasumasa Morimura empirically uses all kinds of techniques such as digital manipulations, makeup, etc. that make up the decisive work. The conspicuous work of setting and characterization undertaken in each of his stage pieces is not irrelevant. Author in search of characters, master of disguise, extreme egomaniac, delicious actor, perfect comedian with a refined spirit, fascinating artist, exalted transvestite, meticulous imitator, inveterate narcissist. His life is an absolute staging, pure theater of notorious interpretations and whispered meditation. Theater of mirrors, game of sublimated masks. Supreme theater, scenes of the mind.

More about Yasumasa Morimura at www.hunterartmagazine.com.

Yasumasa Morimura: the theater of identity