Libraries and Art History Partner on Digital Japanese Posters Exhibition


Part of the libraries’ Discover at a Distance series

Dr. Rika Hiro’s Art History 387 students have been busy researching and writing about the libraries’ collection of visually striking, large-format Japanese posters and were planning to mount an exhibition of their discoveries in Doheny Library. Now, thanks to Hiro, her enterprising students, and their library partners, the exhibition is moving to a digital space at the end of April.

Hiro described the change in plans as “a powerful testament to collaborative endeavors and what our students can discover and achieve with our libraries’ collections and capabilities.”

The exhibition, Unpinning History: Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism, examines Japanese commerce and social activities and the ideology of imperial modernity in the decades before World War II. The graphic design of the posters straddles a middle ground between traditional ukiyo-e style that persisted through the 19th century and the modernism of 1910-1920s Japan.

The exhibition provides original research on a rare and largely unexplored collection. The posters document a pivotal period that saw Japan undergo enormous change as it evolved into one of the world’s largest economies and military powers. The collection and the students’ curatorial work will become a unique digital resource for scholars and students of art in modern Japan, as well as those interested in the visual culture and commerce of the early 20th-century Far East.

“While our plans for having a physical exhibition were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hiro added, “this online version will reveal unique possibilities of remote learning and teaching, and what arts and culture can offer—potency, wonder, provocation, and relief—in the midst of this chaotic moment.”

Like the libraries’ upcoming A Case of Hysteria program, the Unpinning History exhibit will be built using the Scalar platform. The software offers a rich variety of data visualization palettes and multidimensional contextual information.

Rebecca Corbett, Tyson Gaskill, and Anne-Marie Maxwell of the USC Libraries are collaborating on this project with Rika Iezumi Hiro of the USC Dornsife Department of Art History.