Identity in Flux
Kimiko Yoshida is a Japanese born photographer who divides her time between Paris, France and Venice, Italy. Her work is devoted to self-portraits. Part conceptual artist, part performance artist and part artistic portraitist — Yoshida’s photographic work deals with the concepts of personal and cultural identity. Her evolution as an artist has consistently centered on her face and torso as the control object of each picture — yet her identity is constantly in flux. Who Kimiko ultimately is — is never revealed.
Traveling through Time and Space
As an artist, she is compelled to consistently reinvent herself. Her identity from photograph to photograph is temporary. Through creative changes of makeup, props, clothes, and ancient artifacts, she creates personas in which she travels through time and space, referencing the imaginary lives of others. She physically transforms herself to question the ideas of identity in relation to gender and personal, and sociological history. The majority of her work can be viewed as a reaction against the oppression she felt and endured as a woman living in the traditional Japanese society, not being encouraged to be a creative artist, before moving to France in 1995. Born in Tokyo in 1963, Kimiko Yoshida enrolled in the Tokyo College of Photography despite her father’s objections. Upon her move to France, she studied photography at L’École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles and later at the Studio National des Arts Contemporains in Le Fresnoy.
Ceremony of Disappearance
Since 2001, Kimiko Yoshida has been producing her artwork within consistent parameters; frontal framing, central of the composition, indirect lighting, and square format. She uses the same palette for her makeup and the background of her work. She metaphorically appears and disappears out of the background and deep space of the frame in her self-portraits. Yoshida situates herself in the very middle of the frame and is photographed in a monochromatic manner with a neutral facial expression. In her performance of transformation, she conducts a ceremony of disappearance, as she tries to obliterate her own identity by taking on another — whether it is an imaginary bride, a potentate, a Renaissance artist, or a cultural icon. Her choice of objects reference a wide variety of subjects from haute couture to indigenous cultures and to Western painting. Within such plurality, Yoshida believes that her preparation for each image is a transition of losing her ego. She cannot present herself as herself if she wishes to conjure another world.
Conceptually, Kimiko defines art as a space allowing for metamorphosis, the uniqueness of Yoshida’s temporary identity asserts itself and then disappears within each image. She explains the process of deconstruction as follows;
“First there is a real presence; then the image comes – this is, the absence of the real thing… The self portrait is not a reflection of oneself but a reflection of the representation of oneself.”
By using her body as a canvas, Yoshida critiques the firm and unchanging ideologies of the traditions she fled. Her multiple iterations as “another” can be seen as an act of liberation. When asked to comment on what her art represents, Yoshida says;
“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women, I amplify through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary cliches of seduction, voluntary servitude of women, identity and the stereotypes of gender.”
The Tale of Genji Series
Perhaps one of the best examples where the entirety of Kimiko Yoshida’s photographic oeuvre comes together is The Tale of Genji series. Besides a search for technical and formal excellence throughout each image, Yoshida returns to her roots and tackles a subject matter that comes from her native Japan. Considered a masterpiece of Japanese literature as well as the first novel to ever be written, The Tale of Genji is a novel written by Murasaki Shikibu at the beginning of the 11th century. It captures the image of the early Heian Japan era through the story of Prince Genji and her many continuously centers female perspective, although the novel is based on the tales of a prince. It was unthinkable, at the time, for a woman to write a novel, let alone be seen alone in daylight. Physical contact between men and women are rarely described. The Tale of Genji as a novel also speaks to some of the core issues Kimiko Yoshida questions as an artist. In her series, Yoshida is unrecognizable. She blends into the background. Yoshida becomes an archetype and her identity is a reflection of who she wishes to reference in the photograph.
Inspired by the lacquered image of the antique drawings from The Tale of Genji, Yoshida reimagines the craftsmanship in a contemporary manner with the merging of modern photography and ancient illustrations, resulting in complex images that are overlayed with ancient stenciled patterns. The photographs are presented in a large format, in the traditional kakejiku format, which are Japanese hanging scrolls on which Japanese painting or calligraphy is mounted. The kakejiku plays a significant role in the traditional interior decoration of a Japanese room. Yoshida pays hommage to and critiques the Japanese cliches by presenting her works as kakejiku, yet executes her ritual of disappearance through her “intangible self-portraits.” Her work can ultimately be seen as a stream of consciousness of images in which the possibilities for objectification are only limited by her imagination. Kimiko’s photographs present a balance between who she is, and who she dreams of being past and present.
Yoshida received the International Photography Award in 2005. She continues to exhibit worldwide, and her work is found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, the Israel Museum, the Kawasaki City Museum, and the Maison Européenne de la Photograph in Paris and in many prestigious private and corporate collections.