"Clay As Soft Power examines how Shigaraki ware ceramics transformed the American public’s image of Japan, helping the country shift its identity from World War II enemy to Cold War ally to global cultural change maker.
Known for its earthy tones, rough clay surfaces, and natural ash glazes, Shigaraki wares originated from one of six ancient kilns of Japan, and has a rich history from the 13th century to today. This exhibition explores three distinct periods of that history, telling a story of global intrigue, covert international relations, and the evolution of this uniquely Japanese art form.
Shigaraki ware entered American museum collections between the 1960s and 1980s and became a staple in permanent galleries and presentations of Japanese art. This was, in large part, because the aesthetics of Shigaraki ware fit well within the postwar discourse of Japanese art and culture, which celebrated austerity over sophistication. Modest Japanese ware replaced industrial porcelain products in the tastes of consumers and collectors. Shigaraki ware became a 'soft power' that quickly shifted the image of post-war Japan, turning the country into America’s peaceful, democratic ally in the Cold War era."
(Text from UMMA website)
Clay as Soft Power was presented at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) from November 2022 to May 2023. The exhibition catalogue by curator Natsu Oyobe and Prof. Kazuko Todate, with contributions by museum director Christina Olsen and eminent scholar Louise Allison Cort, can be purchased by contacting the UMMA Shop. This exhibition was the basis of our February 2023 ZOOM Gallery Talk, which can be viewed by clicking here.