Tabaimo, Japanese, born 1975
Hanabi-ra, 2003
Video animation; 4 minutes, 24 seconds
Lent by the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama L2011.172

The Japanese artist Tabaimo distinguished herself early in her career. At the age of twenty-four, she was awarded the Kirin Contemporary Award Grand Prize for her graduation video production Japanese Kitchen (1999). Unlike the slick, computer-generated, fantastical imagery associated with manga (comics) and the Superflat movement, Tabaimo’s images are hand drawn and tend to reflect the mundane elements of Japanese life. Her soft color palette and graphic textures, derived from traditional woodblock prints, give her imagery a comfortably nostalgic feel. This initial familiarity soon dissipates, however, as surreal and nightmarish vignettes begin to appear, suggesting that the normalcy is only a façade.

In Hanabi-ra (Flower Petals), the naked backside of a male figure tattooed with chrysanthemums copied from a print by the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai recalls the Japanese sento (public baths), where nakedness reveals that which is typically hidden. The sense of benign déjà vu takes a surreal turn, however, when butterflies and bees visit the flowers and a carp swims through the man’s body. As the petals fall from the flowers, and the man himself disintegrates, we’re left to consider our notions of permanence and immutability.