Suffering with Takato Yamamoto
Takato Yamamoto is a Japanese contemporary artist whose influences include traditional Japanese art and the European Renaissance. He explores sex, death, and violence in a style he calls “Heisei Estheticism,” and in this piece, Yamamoto welcomes us to the underworld with a woman adorned in death sitting across from an angelic man pierced by arrows.
Two trees molded out of the grotesque stand against dark clouds filling a darker sky, telling us that this is not the earth we know. The upper half of the tree on the left seems to have an eye, nose, and mouth, appearing to be some unnatural personified version of a tree. Though it has a face, and presumably thoughts of its own, it shows no remorse in its expression for the suffering man across from it. It seems more fascinated with his suffering than anything, suggesting Yamamoto’s intention for viewers to be fascinated with the aesthetic of the violence he portrays in the image without remorse. Moreover, the woman at the base of the personified tree embodies death as she looks down upon the corpse she holds with her head wrapped in faces with closed eyes and a skull. She wears death like she would wear jewels, admiring its beauty. She allows Yamamoto to state that death is not man’s hideous undoing, but that death is a part of the artistic exploration of existence.
The man in distress on the left, pierced by arrows, has a halo over his head to imply his good nature. He is bound, forced to withstand the torture and violence. As viewers, we wonder why he is in this dystopia and why such an angelic figure would be subjected to this agony. Perhaps including this man allows Yamamoto to remind us that this fascination with suffering is within all of us regardless of whether we want it to be. Even the most virtuous of humans have a part of them that is intrigued by what society has taught them is grotesque, wrong, or ugly. Yamamoto gives us permission to be shamelessly fascinated with a world of things that we would never normally explore.
What do you think is happening in this piece?