Yanagawa Shigenobu I 初代柳川重信 (1787–1832)
Gang Rape
From the series Storm of the Willow (Yanagi no arashi)
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1832
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

The fact that the woman presses her foot against the face of one of the men indicates that this is a depiction of sexual abuse. Though similar in appearance, a scene from Tale of the Drunken Demon: A Ribald Parody (Ōeyama, 1831) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), shown elsewhere in this exhibition, is interpreted as a depiction of consensual group sex because it does not include such an iconographic device.

How do we psychologically process an image such as this? To what extent can and should we separate our aesthetic reaction to an artwork from our emotional reaction to the act depicted? Should Shigenobu I be criticized for sensationalizing the topics of sexual violence, or should he be commended for frankly addressing the subject of misogyny and the ethical grotesquerie that often lurks beneath the surface of erotica?

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