When Young Women Printmakers in Japan Joined Forces to Create a Strong Impression

A planned exhibition at the Portland Art Museum highlights the boldness of their work

Landscape in Blue by Yoshida Chizuko
Landscape in Blue, color woodblock print with embossing on paper, by Yoshida Chizuko, 1972. The print is one of at least 30 works in the new exhibition. © Chizuko Yoshida / Courtesy Portland Art Museum

In October 1956, nine artists calling themselves Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, or the Women’s Print Association, mounted their debut exhibition in Tokyo. Their bold, modernistic woodblocks, etchings and lithographs pushed the boundaries of Japan’s long—and male-dominated—printmaking tradition. Artists in the postwar years had been forming collectives to share scarce resources, especially gallery space, but it was unusual for young women to organize to further one another’s careers. “They didn’t have the engine of support behind them that a lot of the male artists did,” says Jeannie Kenmotsu, curator of an exhibit of Joryū Hanga Kyōkai works scheduled to open in May at the Portland Art Museum. As some members of the collective married and started families, they had less time for their art and drifted into obscurity. Nevertheless, says Kenmotsu, the still-fresh appeal of their work “speaks to a self-confidence that is really remarkable, in all of them.”

When Young Women Printmakers in Japan Joined Forces to Create a Strong Impression
Haru matsu onna (Woman Waiting for Spring), etching on paper, by Kobayashi Donge, 1960. ©Kobayashi Donge / Courtesy Portland Art Museum
When Young Women Printmakers in Japan Joined Forces to Create a Strong Impression
Jam Masjid, color woodblock print on paper, by Yoshida Chizuko, 1960. © Yoshida Chizuko / Courtesy Portland Art Museum
When Young Women Printmakers in Japan Joined Forces to Create a Strong Impression
Mukashi B (Antiquity B), monochrome woodblock print with gold foil and mica on paper, by Iwami Reika, 1965. © Iwami Reika / Courtesy Portland Art Museum

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This article is a selection from the May 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine