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Tani Bunchō, Tiger Family and Magpies, Edo period, 1807, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Charlotte Wayne and Richard Wayne in memory of Lenore Wayne. Photo © Museum Associates /LACMA

The Roles and Representations of Animals in Japanese Art and Culture, Part 5—Let the Animals Speak: The Language of Animals in Japan

Daniel McKee, adjunct assistant professor and bibliographer, department of Asian studies, Cornell University

Artworks representing animals—real or imaginary, religious or secular—span the full breadth and splendor of Japanese artistic production. As the first exhibition devoted to the subject, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art covers 17 centuries (from the fifth century to the present day) and a wide variety of media. At the symposium held on June 7, 2019, in conjunction with the exhibition, Daniel McKee focused on the importance of historical context in interpreting Japanese art. The first part of his talk demonstrated the value of adding iconography and the circumstances of production to the aesthetic analysis of a single work from the exhibit. The second and main part outlined chronologically the history of animal representations in Japanese painting, finding that social and political interests outweighed the commonly assumed “Japanese love of nature.”