Arts and Culture
The histories of objects of material culture, much like history itself, do not exist in isolation. Indeed, material culture and history are global phenomena. They exist within, and are the result of, a complex network of human interactions and exchanges across geographical and political borders, which add to the meaning of an object, at times even reinterpreting it. Yet, despite this, the global histories of material culture are often perceived to be the result of a multitude of linear and one-way, albeit mutual, transfers. While existing dynamics certainly contribute to the determination of cultural exchanges, these do not only flow in one direction or at only one specific moment in time. The history of the reception of Japanese erotic ukiyo-e woodblock print shunga images exemplifies this. Despite constituting an important genre of ukiyo-e woodblock print culture, involving major artists and publishers, shunga are often absent from major publications or exhibitions. Moreover, in Japan and abroad these images have often been subject to censorship regulations. Only recently, on the spur of the success it achieved at the British Museum, has a major exhibition of shunga taken place in Japan. By examining the case of shunga imagery and its reception in Japan and the West in the past and in the present, this paper shall endeavour to illustrate the complexities of the exchanges of material culture and the flows and backflows of shunga reception, highlighting how they do not only run in one direction.