Exploring the ‘Third Gender’ of Japan; show opens at ROM

The ground-breaking A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints opened at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Saturday, May 7. Featuring stunning woodblock prints, samurai armour, a kimono, screen paintings, lacquerwork, and illustrated books, the exhibition explores issues of gender and tells a pivotal story of sexuality in Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868).

A Third Gender is the first North American display on wakashu. Four hundred years ago in Japan, a complex social structure existed in which gender involved more than a person’s biological sex. Age, position in the sexual hierarchy, and appearance were also considered. Fundamental to this structure were youths termed wakashu. Neither “adult man” nor “woman”—each a separate gender—wakashu were objects of desire for both, playing distinct social and sexual roles. Constituting a third gender, they are visually represented in these woodblock prints of the Edo period, ROM said in a statement.

The exhibition features approximately 60 woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), visually representing wakashu. Many never before displayed, they are from the ROM’s Japanese art collection—the largest in Canada. Produced since the 8th century in Japan, woodblock prints, created collaboratively by a designer, engraver, printer, and publisher, became popular in the 17th century. The exhibition’s prints were created in early 18th to mid-19th centuries by major ukiyo-e masters including Okumura Masanobu, Suzuki Harunobu, and Kitagawa Utamaro.

A Third Gender is curated by Dr. Asato Ikeda, Assistant Professor of Art History at Fordham University, New York and the ROM’s 2014-2016 Bishop White Postdoctoral Fellow of Japanese Art and Culture. Said Dr. Ikeda, “A Third Gender invites ROM visitors to think differently about gender and sexuality and we anticipate the exhibition will be of interest to a diverse audience.”

A ROM Press publication accompanies the exhibition. Beautifully illustrated, A Third Gender is co-authored by curator Asato Ikeda and Joshua Mostow (University of British Columbia) and available in the ROM Boutique and online at shop.rom.on.ca for $50 (Member price: $45). The exhibition is complemented throughout its presentation by insightful lectures and other programming reflecting its content, including a number of programs created in partnership with the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. On May 12th, ROM Daytime in the Field is free with Museum Admission and features Asato Ikeda addressing Japanese Visual Culture: Gender & Sexual Diversity. The ROM gratefully acknowledges the guidance received from members of the LGBTTIQQ2S community in the development of this exhibition.

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints,included with Museum General Admission, is on display in the ROM’s Third Floor Centre Block until November 27, 2016. The ROM’s Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan on Level 1 deepens visitors’ experience of Japanese art and culture – CINEWS

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