The Struggles of Humanity in the Guise of Kawaii-ness: Interview with Hikari Shimoda

Hikari Shimoda, Can Pop Conquer Despair? #2, 2019, mixed media, 36.3 x 51.5 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
Hikari Shimoda, Whereabouts of God #31, 2018, oil on canvas, 72.6 x 72.6 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
Hikari Shimoda, Portrait Of A Modern Person Wearing A Mask, 2020, acrylic, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 145.5 x 112 cm. Image courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery and the artist.
Hikari Shimoda, Virtual Worship, 2020, acrylic, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 145.5 x 112 cm. Image courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery and the artist.
Hikari Shimoda, Our God – Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu, 2017, mixed media, 116.5 x 90.9 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
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In her art, Japanese artist Hikari Shimoda reveals the struggles of humankind using motifs from manga and anime. Bombarded with glitters and bright colours, viewers are lured into a dreamland of human’s darkest desires and fears, which are heightened in the midst of a pandemic.

 

TEXT: Cindy Yung
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

Upon first glance of Hikari Shimoda’s artworks, one would immediately associate her starry-eyed, vibrant-coloured characters to those frequently found in Japanese manga and anime. These child-like protagonists often carry a vacant expression and stare right through the canvas to the viewers in front of them. Sugarcoated in their apparent ‘kawaii-ness’ (cuteness in Japanese), they bear the deepest emotions Shimoda is striving to project to her audience.

“The character I draw is not a portrait of a specific person, but a vessel for expressing the two-sidedness and emotional complexity of human beings themselves. The eyes are a part of us that are especially expressive and I want to express human complexity by giving different brightness to the left and right eye,” she explains through an email interview with CoBo Social.

 

Hikari Shimoda, Can Pop Conquer Despair? #2, 2019, mixed media, 36.3 x 51.5 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Loneliness, hopelessness and anxiety inevitably accompany us in this chaotic world, even more so in this pandemic age. All of these emotions that we normally attribute to negativity are portrayed through positive imagery. In many Shōnen and Shōjo manga (manga aimed at young boys and girls respectively), superheroes appear in times of despair. The Lonely Hero and his friendly counterpart ‘obake’ (ghost in Japanese) who help save the world from humanity and “mankind’s desires” are recurring symbols created by Shimoda. Perhaps through these little heroes, they could act as an outlet for viewers who are searching for salvation from human suffering. This yearning for a saviour to lead us to a life of happiness may also be realised through religion. Despite being an atheist, Shimoda believes the act of praying in difficult times is universal. Through characters dressed in Sailor Moon costumes with reference to postures of the Buddha or Kannon, the artist is “making an homage to Buddhism and draws upon a new form of religion”.

Raised by parents who are art lovers themselves, Shimoda grew up with an abundant exposure to popular culture through manga and anime, and later, contemporary art through art magazines and museums. She is strongly influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, the internationally acclaimed animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. In particular, his phenomenal 1984 science fantasy film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It was the animation’s depiction of the essence of human beings, such as human foolishness, ego, contradiction, justice, and love that fascinated Shimoda.

These early influences have inspired the artist to continually explore the meaning of human existence in her works, with “life and death” being one of the central themes. The series Whereabouts of God (2012– ) pays homage to the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster. The children in the paintings carry “Chernobyl necklaces”—scars caused by the removal of thyroid cancer due to nuclear accidents. As we are lured into the seemingly joyful universe in Shimoda’s works, we are also forced to confront the emotions we are hiding from and to build the courage to honestly tell ourselves “Yes, I am in pain”. This revelation and acceptance of inner struggles was envisioned in her recent solo show “Silence and Affirmation” at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles. “I’m praying for a world where we human beings are not bound by any of our physical attributes and to be affirmed as we are,” says Shimoda.

 

Hikari Shimoda, Whereabouts of God #31, 2018, oil on canvas, 72.6 x 72.6 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

There is no doubt the pain brought to humankind by the pandemic since the beginning of 2020 is enormous. Plans are cancelled, jobs are lost and families are separated. These drastic changes force us to reconsider the priorities in our lives and reflect upon the meaning of our existence. For Shimoda, she has noticed changes in her feelings towards the notion of life and death, but she still needs time to truly incorporate such thoughts into her works. Attempting to work through these feelings, she has been creating new works including Virtual Worship (2020) and Portrait of a Modern Person Wearing a Mask (2020).

 

Hikari Shimoda, Portrait Of A Modern Person Wearing A Mask, 2020, acrylic, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 145.5 x 112 cm. Image courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery and the artist.
Hikari Shimoda, Virtual Worship, 2020, acrylic, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 145.5 x 112 cm. Image courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery and the artist.

 

Shimoda explains, “Virtual Worship is a painting of a yōkai (supernatural monsters and spirits in Japanese folklore) called ‘Amabie’, which is popular in Japan when a pandemic occurs, and ironically depicts people praying to God in the event of a disaster. Portrait of a Modern Person Wearing a Mask expresses that there are people who convey their intentions and opinions, even if their voices are blocked by wearing a mask, an image that has become prevalent due to the pandemic.”

Emotions of anxiety and loneliness are highlighted more explicitly throughout her works last year. “I feel that these are feelings surrounding the pandemic that are surfacing around the world.” Amid the gloom, Shimoda finds joy in the birth of her niece. In 2021, she will return with a solo show in Japan in the summer, alongside group shows in Japan, the United States, Europe and Australia. In her unique artistic language, Shimoda continues to delve into the complexity of human nature and inspire her audience through her creation.

 

Hikari Shimoda, Our God – Nyoirin Kannon Bosatsu, 2017, mixed media, 116.5 x 90.9 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

 

About the artist
Based in Nagano, Japan, Hikari Shimoda studied illustration at the prestigious Kyoto Saga University of Art and Aoyama Juku School before beginning her career as a professional contemporary artist in 2008. Soon after, she was selected for her first solo exhibition at Motto Gallery in Tokyo and has since held exhibitions in galleries worldwide, including Japan, the United States, Canada, and Europe.

@hikarishimoda
www.hikarishimoda.com

 

 

 
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