Kawaii Culture Is Not So Cute Anymore

Soft, cute, childlike, girly—at a glance, it’s hard to see how anybody might have a bone to pick with the Japanese aesthetic of kawaii. Since its earliest appearances in the pop culture of 1970s Japan, the saccharine trend has swept the world, finding global appeal with a generation as fond of escapist nostalgia as the Japanese teens of the post-bubble economy who first popularized it. The concept that took its baby steps as a design element has gone on to make a lasting impression on the Japanese art scene. But while both the manga industry and the fine art world continue to celebrate hypersexual portrayals of doe-eyed, busty high school girls, a new wave of transgressive women artists is starting to turn the tide: Junko Mizuno, Aya Kakeda, Hinako Hinana, Chiho Aoshima and Risa Mehmet, to name but a few. The artists all share a common, cute-infused aesthetic, albeit one with a sinister streak—eerie transfigurations of monstrous women or claustrophobic tableaus of femininity usurping the pervasive, passive ideal. Some call it dark shojo (“girls”) art. ‘Darkness Is Comforting’: The Japanese Artists Subverting Kawaii Culture

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