The World of Yoshitomo Nara

Sara Elkamel, Thursday 23 Dec 2010

Located within the Cairo Opera House grounds, the charming El Bab Gallery hosts an exhibition by Japanese neo-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara, the 12th International Cairo Biennale’s guest of honour

Yoshitomo Nara

Located within Cairo Opera House grounds, the charming El Bab Gallery hosts an exhibition by Japanese neo-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara, the 12th International Cairo Biennale’s guest of honour.

The prolific artist is celebrated far and wide for artwork with devious child and animal motifs. Operating with a deceivingly simple subject matter, Nara’s meddles with his subjects’ innocence, giving them wide-eyes that dart inescapably petulant glances. Still, playfulness sneaks into the world of Nara. Children stick out red tongues, their stares tease ever so slightly.

Bland and juvenile

At first glance, the ‘World of Yoshitomo Nara’ appears to be bland and juvenile. Yet, a closer look proves worth it as Nara’s world is suffused with a subtle energy. His tight-lipped subjects shriek for attention - a supposedly-adorable child wears an uncharacteristically evil look, sleep walks in oblivion, and flaunts a sizeable apathy.

Fifteen years ago, Nara exhibited his artwork in Tokyo and his artistic career immediately took off within Japan’s pop-art arena. Nara managed to lure the audience with a daring style, adorned with delicate layers of colour. Through creating unconventional contours and exaggerated features, Nara dissects the childish disposition, revealing the raw verve masked by their seemingly-fragile features. His wide-eyed figures juxtapose human malice with youthful innocence.

Nara’s figures are feisty and extremely animated despite their minimal form.  A fully-dressed dog sticks his tongue out, embracing an electric guitar while his thin legs stretch to either edge of the paper. Pencil scribbles garnish the poodle, the famed “one, two, three, four” signifying the start of a song haphazardly doodled in. Musical instruments reappear in Nara’s world - a guitar rests in the arm of a reluctant, bizarre wide-eyed girl, and a flute is perched between the lips of a child, her eyes serenely closed for a change (and a welcome one at that).

Flat style and blunt lines

Nara’s deliberately flat style and blunt lines generate compelling subjects with oversized, balloon-like heads, hinting at stories that infants would never understand.

An untitled pencil drawing, apparently purposely unfinished, depicts a young girl, her right eye dark and enticing, her left eye faded, and a dark pupil just barely visible within. Possibly showcasing integral human good versus evil, the drawing successfully portrays the disparities that lay within each of us.

Hauntingly beautiful is Nara’s ‘Candy Blue Night’. Suspended within an engrossing black background, a child relentlessly stares right back at you. Her hair a dim red, her blue irises infused with sky-blue pupils (night-sky blue, of course, for the terrifying portrait could use none other), a perfectly round marble of candy is placed awkwardly between her thin, bright lips. Swimming in a murky coloured nightgown, the little girl will not drop your gaze.

A joyful carousel ride

Nara’s bold, unrefined lines could have very easily been drawn by a child - yet the sharp trepidation within his paintings is blatant products of a seasoned adult. The discrepancy between stark mood and pure subject matter renders a somewhat disconcerting effect.

At first glance, Nara’s world is a joyful carousel ride. A closer glance proves dizzying; for the carousel soon spins out of control - perilous, yet riveting.


The exhibition will run until 12 February 2011

El Bab Gallery, Museum of Modern Egyptian Art, Cairo Opera Grounds, Cairo
Open daily (except Mondays and Fridays) from 10 am to 2 pm and from 5 pm to 9 pm


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