Past Exhibitions

On Dragons, Samurai, and Dim Sum / Ruven Kuperman

Curator: Shir Meller-Yamaguchi

Aliens , 2011 , color pencils on paper , 110 x150 cm

Ruven Kuperman’s theater of the absurd presents grotesque scenes where everything is possible. The collagist nature of the two series featured in this exhibition is the result of his artistic travels in Japan and China on which he embarked in 2007. The adventure was spawned by Kuperman’s penchant for Japanese tattoos, which led him to surprising sources of inspiration: on the one hand, 19th century Japanese woodblock prints, and on the other—the Yakuza, Japanese gangsters whose bodies are decorated from head to toe for all to see. The contrast and connection between art and popular culture offered the point of departure for the series “New Mythologies” (2007–2011). As opposed to the penetrating realistic style of his previous portraits, in this series Kuperman chose to depict a cluster of fictive figures typified by flattening and stylized textures.
Following an artist’s residency in Hangzhou, China, in 2012, Kuperman created another series comprised of photograph cutouts portraying tempting chinese dishes turned into landscapes, panoramas which now serve as backdrop for protagonists of the Chinese opera juxtaposed with Red Guards. In both series he draws impressive, spectacularly colorful figures, staging a mesmerizing show where they emerge from the white background into dramatic compositions.
Kuperman regards himself and us as aliens visiting other worlds, which function as a distorted mirror, reflecting us and the cultural hierarchy we have created. In Kuperman’s work, the Far East, which is perceived as exotic and other, becomes an inexhaustible source of encounters between narratives which intersect, coexist, and interact: forces of beauty may transform into dangerous temptation, violence may present itself in the guise of power, heroism may be ridiculed as a manifestation of helplessness, and amiable naïveté may cloak ulterior motives.
Each figure was taken from a different story, unraveled and reassembled in a stratified, disconcerting, ambiguous work. The dramatic juxtaposition of Sumo wrestlers, Samurais, and demons with manga (Japanese comics) figures and toy dolls enhances the feeling that this is a game of illusions.
Some of the images originated in the Japanese woodblock prints known as Ukyio-e, “pictures of the floating world.” It is a Buddhist term intended to emphasize the dimension of illusion in life, which is, at once, an evasion of sorrow and a pursuit of pleasure. Although some of the works are dubbed “Tragedy,” they are equally comical.
The view portrayed by Kuperman as he looks from here to the East returns our own reflection. Painted during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict (Operation Protective Edge), Kaboomki depicts a fierce Japanese struggle taking place on Gaza’s rooftops, whereas Rembrandt’s renowned painting is given a Japanese disguise, and rendered “A Lesson in Autonomy” (rather than Anatomy), where the living operated patient lies on a flag of Palestine, as a little demon protects his heart. Perhaps the fictive story, ostensibly taking place in another time and another place, is, in fact, a very familiar story.

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi