The Only Male Geisha

Exhibition at Japan Foundation Cologne, Sept.-Nov. 2018

Through fine interweaving of video, photography and sound, the exhibition illuminates the artists encounter with Japan’s only male geisha, Eitaro Matsunoya. The contemplative works hold the viewer at an enticing distance that respects his oblique persona and his wish not to be fully understood or assimilated.

Eitaro Matsunoya, Yellow Portrait. 123,5 x 102 cm, 2017
Using a special foil, the portrait appears out of focus when seen from the front.
When seen from the side it becomes sharp and clear.

Eitaro Matsunoya attracts curiosity both nationally and globally. As head of his family-owned geisha house, he performs in female kimono, is a cultured host with a studied effeminacy, and has perfected the gestures and dances of a women’s profession. Matsunoya’s one-of-a-kind story is an alluring portal into a rich history of non-normative gender expression in Japanese performing arts. He also presents a fascinating meeting point of individualism and nationalised identity.

Neck with Waves and Eitaro with Waves, each 91 x 56,8cm, 2018.
UV print on acrylic over Japanese screen print

Matsunoya is unique in Japan: he identifies as male, while sharing his artistic occupation exclusively with women. This life-choice was radically anticipated by his mother, who trained him to be a geisha from an early age. At work, Matsunoya is a geisha like any other: does his gender matter?
Gender always matters, but perhaps more important is that Matsunoya embraces his difference in order to revive a traditional art for which he cares deeply. For Diernberger and Saunders, their encounter with Japan’s only male geisha – as well as the other artists they met as a result – has pushed them to interrogate their strategies for identifying with difference.

Shoji – Documentation of installation inside the Japan Foundation.
Kiyosumi Park – Documentation of installation inside the Japan Foundation.
GREY – (Interview with Eitaro Matsunoya), 26min, 2018
ASO – 1 minute on the volcano. Real time, 2018

Installation views

Outside sound installation on Museum of East-Asian Art and Japan Foundation, Cologne
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