Freer and Sackler Lecture: Revealed by Moonlight: Shapeshifters in Japanese Woodblock Prints

Lizzie Stein's picture
October 12, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Japanese History / Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Asian History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies

Please join us Tuesday, October 12, 12–12:40 pm for the October installment of our monthly talk series, Sneak Peek: New Research from the Freer and Sackler. This brief lunchtime talk series—consisting of twenty-minute talks followed by discussion—features museum staff members presenting in-depth, personal perspectives and ongoing research connected to works in the Freer and Sackler collections.

In this Halloween season edition of Sneak Peek, Revealed by Moonlight: Shapeshifters in Japanese Woodblock Prints, assistant curator Kit Brooks will discuss 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints that explore the theme of shapeshifting. 

Throughout Japanese folklore, the silvery orb of the moon is often used as a device to reveal the monstrous identity lurking behind an innocent façade. Over the years, some artists and audiences appear to have identified with bombastic warrior heroes depicted in the dynamic moment when they have vanquished their foes. Others show empathy for lonely, monstrous figures sensitively depicted in atmospheric compositions that employ a gentle color palette. The enormous amount of grotesque imagery produced at this time is often attributed to the psychological states of the artists but is better understood as a general taste for the macabre that continues to thrive today. 

Kit Brooks is the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. They hold a PhD in Japanese art history from Harvard University (2017), having studied under professors Yukio Lippit and Melissa McCormick. Specializing in prints and paintings of the Edo and Meiji periods, their primary research interests revolve around the reevaluation of “eccentric” artists of the eighteenth century, as well as the relationship between illustrated books and paintings, and special prints that emulate the visual qualities of other media, such as surimono and takuhanga

Brooks has held positions at the British Museum, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Children’s Museum in Boston. They curated the exhibition Uncanny Japan: The Art of Yoshitoshi (1839–1892) at the Worcester Art Museum (2015) and cocurated Living Proof: Drawing in 19th-Century Japan at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (2017–18). Brooks is also a graduate of the CCL/Mellon Foundation Seminar in Curatorial Practice at the Center for Curatorial Leadership (2016).  

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Lizzie Stein, Scholarly Programs and Publications Specialist

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art