Cosponsor(s): Department of Art & Archaeology and Tang Center for East Asian Art
From tilling and planting to food preparation, shop-tending, and drawing water, representations of physical labor have a long history of depiction within East Asian art. The reasons behind their appearance are familiar: they underscore ideals of a stable, prosperous realm, reiterate hopes and prayers for a good harvest, punctuate seasonal rhythms, reveal the human body at work, highlight the patron’s investments, and satisfy curiosity about the origins of things. In the eighteenth century, however, we see a global increase in pictorializations of laboring bodies, and this is equally true in Japan, where artists devised new and surprising ways of depicting work that reflected their own precarious positions in the social hierarchy. I examine social and political factors, as well as the relations between paintings and printed matter to ask how these images resituated physical work among less tangible issues of social status, gender, and access to knowledge.