1977 Tokyo-born Nobuaki Takekawa appears to be a cat-person. He also seems to be a highly focused, detail-oriented artist who uses the sincerity of lovingness and cuteness to ask political questions in the most biting way but never from a distanced or heightened position.
From this month until April 14, 2018, Ota Fine Arts Singapore is showing Takekawa's Cat Olympics: in memory of Torajiro. The work refers to the 2020 Olympic games, which is to be held in Tokyo, and incorporates installations of Olympic game stadiums, models of planes, wall installations and paintings.
Over 2000 individually handcrafted ceramic cats await the gallery visitor, ready to be heard for their needs, devotion and anonymity. The show’s title is a tribute to the artist’s late cat Torajiro. In his studio, three cats currently accompany and inspire Takekawa. The appreciation of this friendship is apparent in every aspect of Cat Olympics.
Takekawa uses the beloved creature of the cat as a metaphor for the human individual within mass society. Doing so, he also implicitly notes on the Japanese culture of cuteness, ‘kawaii’, bridging his ceramic installation works and his paintings and displaying cartoonish movements and scenes that resemble the animated single-frame storytelling of children’s book illustrations.
The titles of the works and the different sections of the show reveal a deep conceptual approach and the artist’s reflection on a global society’s history. The cats appeal to their audience to let them be how they are; to not force them to perform tricks; to not favour one over the other; to interact with them whilst respecting their freedom; to make basic needs of water, food and love accessible; to make human rights accessible.
Takekawa devotes a set of four paintings exclusively to the 1936 Olympic games, replacing people with cats and discussing the recruitment of the ‘Nazi-youths’, the glorification of assimilation of the individual into the march of unidentified bodies of totalitarianism, with smile, honour of the participant and innocence of cuteness.
Takekawa manages to stay on eye-level with his subject and to take his metaphor, the cat, the viewer and the political issue serious. He operates with an honesty and outstanding critical voice that is a rare find, truly fulfilling the role of art as discourse. The artist doesn’t just look to the 2020 games with suspicion and an appeal to his home country but at our society to date, asks us to reflect on the tricks we play on one another time and again.
Cat Olympics: in memory of Torajiro is a multi-layered must-see for every aspect of its multifarious conceptualisation and exploration of humanity. Learn more about the exhibition here.