Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrents of Performance Art in 1960s Japan, KuroDalaiJee (Leuven University Press, February 2023)
Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrents of Performance Art in 1960s Japan, KuroDalaiJee (Leuven University Press, February 2023)

In Anarchy of the Body, art historian KuroDalaiJee sheds light on vital pieces of postwar Japanese avant-garde history by contextualizing the social, cultural, and political trajectories of artists across Japan in the 1960s. A culmination of years of research, Anarchy of the Body draws on an extensive breadth of source material to reveal how the practice of performance by individual artists and art groups during this period formed a legacy of resistance against institutionalization, both within the art world and more broadly in Japanese society.

We have been here before. In 1220 the Mongols sacked Afghanistan, scattering its artists and musicians in all directions. The Sufi poet Rumi wound up in Konya, in today’s Turkey, but the majority of these refugees fled into neighboring India, where they were warmly welcomed by culture hungry audiences. They contributed to the development of Hindustani music, whose modern avatar is Bollywood music. I wonder today if the musicians chased out of Afghanistan today will leave such echoes of their musical exile. If they do, it will be because of the tireless touring of masters like Daud Khan Sadozai, who recently performed at Lisbon’s Fundacão Oriente.

Scalpers worked overtime for New Yorkers eager to see Beijing Opera star Mei Lanfang perform during his one and only American tour in 1930. His “exquisite loveliness in pantomime and costume” must have seemed ineffably exotic to New Yorkers, unfamiliar with the codes of Chinese opera, or the art of female impersonators 旦(dan)like Mei. An elaborate and many layered tradition lay behind the performance of Mei and Beijing Opera of the 20th and 21st centuries. In Staging for the Emperors, Liana Chen, a professor at George Washington University, undertakes to explain the emergence of this art form, and surprisingly for this reviewer, to demonstrate the prominent role played by the imperial Qing rulers themselves.