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The CWAJ’s 62nd Contemporary Japanese Print Show

By in Art And Culture, Events & Review


Host of Japan’s most prestigious contemporary print fair, the College Women’s Association of Japan is a little-known powerhouse of an organisation supporting women and the visually impaired in the country. Connected through a love of English, members of the CWAJ volunteer extensively and raise money for scholarships

Photo by CWAJ

Inspired by the publication of Oliver Statler’s book Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn in 1956, the organisation decided to try a new way of raising funds for its scholarships and held its first print fair that same year. Featuring pieces included in the book as well as many other pioneer artists of the “Creative Print Movement” — known in Japanese as Sosaku Hanga  — the show was curated by Abe Yuji of the Yoseido Gallery.

A movement which combined the longstanding tradition of printmaking in Japan with a contemporary focus on individual expression, Sosaku Hanga had become popular internationally, but received little attention within Japan. Capitalising on this divide, the print fair showcased new and emerging talent alongside major names, soon becoming trailblazers in the contemporary print scene. Now in its 62nd year, the show is a staple of the art world’s calendar, with some surprisingly strict rules ensuring it maintains its grassroots focus and impressive reputation.

To ensure a level playing field, submissions are entered anonymously and selected by an independent jury of field professionals who change each year. Taking into consideration the technical skill displayed and the artistic merit of each print, around 200 prints from some 700 entries are chosen to offer a contemporary view of Japanese printmaking.

The variety of styles, techniques and artists is a key factor, as well as that of price: ranging from 8,000 to 400,000 yen per print, it’s as accessible as it is varied. Setting the prices themselves, artists receive 50% of the sales while the remainder goes to the organisation — which is an entirely volunteer-run system with little organisational expenditure.

Photo by CWAJ

Forerunners in visual impairment support, the organisation prides itself on the evolution of its support, especially the inclusion of the visually impaired community in the CWAJ art fair. With a guided service offered from the local station to and around the exhibition, they also have a selection of raised art pieces which allow visually impaired guests to participate in the event along with sighted visitors.

As well as offering young artists an opportunity to exhibit works in a prestigious exhibition, CWAJ began the Young Printmaker Award in 2005 to celebrate the 50th year of the print fair. Designed to support newcomers, it offers a cash award to help with training or equipment purchases as well as an opportunity to be exhibited in three years time in order to encourage their career development.

Photo by CWAJ

This year’s exhibition is complemented by the annual Associate Exhibition, a curated display with a different theme each year. Entitled Beyond the First Impression: Prints from Cover Artists, this year’s show will focus on the prints used on Print Show catalogues over the years. Celebrating the show’s history as well as the changing face of contemporary Japanese printmaking, the exhibition will run from October 16th to November 5th at the Tokyo American Club.

Offering scholarships to women and the visually impaired as well as running volunteer events and classes, the organisation also offered support in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. As well as a new bus for mental health services and English children’s events, a 10-year scholarship programme was created for nursing students in Fukushima.

The Print Show will be held at the Hillside Forum Gallery in Daikanyama, Tokyo from October 31st to November 4th 2018.

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