Friday, 14 June 2013

Japanese eyePad

One of the cases we are working on in the upper perimeter of the Court contains Japanese material realting to oni – creatures from Japanese folklore, variously interpreted as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theatre.

The case contained two large costumed oni figures in devil form (1.2 metres tall), identifiable as such by their small horns and their feet and hands, which have just four digits each. These figures are possibly two hundred years old and require a lot of conservation work. We will photograph them and talk about them in more detail a bit further down the line. 

The original display of Japanese oni material 

There are also two large masks with grotesque features, one representing a demon queller and the other a horned demon. These were likely to be used during the traditional Japanese new year celebration, Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival), when the evil of the past year is thrown out and good fortune for the year to come is ushered in. To enact this sentiment, someone would don the demon mask and members of their family would throw roasted soya beans at them saying something like ‘Demons out! Luck in!’

Japanese masks. Left: Demon-queller PRM 1959.2.2 B
Right: demon PRM 1959.2.1 B 

These two masks are made of wood and / or papier-mâché with animal-hair facial hair and eyelashes. They are in reasonable condition but the horned mask was missing a the pad that formed the white behind its glass eye. After examining the other eye, Andrew the conservator discovered it was made of cotton wool with small threads of red silk representing the blood vessels, so he constructed a new, similar ‘eye-pad’ for the other eye. This dramatically improves the mask’s appearance and emphasizes its expression.

Existing eye - cotton wool with red thread behind glass

Andrew's new eye pad

Mask with repaired eye

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