by Dilpreet BhullarJul 06, 2020
ArtScience Museum in Singapore is presenting Attack On Titan: The Exhibition, an ongoing show which is on view until July 3, 2022. The showcase is an inquisitive deconstruction and enthusiastic celebration of Hajime Isayama’s manga series Attack On Titan, a fictional world which has taken the world by storm. The art exhibition creates an immersive environment for viewers to take a deep dive into Isayama’s imagination, allowing a close look at the author’s approach to world-building and character creation. The showcase comes during the highly anticipated release of season four of the anime adaptation. As viewers watch the culmination of the saga, visitors to ArtScience Museum can encounter Isayama’s master storytelling and artistic vision over the past decade. Featuring over 150 artworks by Isayama, ranging from the manga's earliest days to the present, Attack on Titan: The Exhibition also showcases new pieces that have not been displayed anywhere else in the world, alongside drafts and sketches from his archives.
Yohei Ito and Shintaro Kawakubo, who both played significant roles in the realisation of this immersive exhibition, spoke to STIR about their connections with Isayama’s manga. ‘Manga’ is a Japanese approach to graphic novels, or comics as they are referred to colloquially. It became part of popular mainstream culture in the mid-1900s, a consequence of the American military occupation of Japan. However, the culture of manga is said to have originated in the 12th century. Manga is generally characterised by clean lines, dynamic images, and exaggerated action or emotion.
Kawakubo shared his thoughts on what makes Attack On Titan such an iconic part of contemporary culture. “With the manga series coming to an end, we wanted to offer visitors the opportunity to experience the world of the work through a large-scale original art exhibition outside of Japan. Although the work is often categorised as ‘dark fantasy’, the magnificent worldview, setting, and diverse characters are portrayed uniquely and attractively, which is why it has so many fans all over the world,” he said.
He continued, underlining the uniqueness of manga culture itself saying, “Manga is a form of entertainment created by a minimum number of people, usually one or two people and an editor, and it is probably an unparalleled culture, where it expands to include animation, games, merchandise, and many other forms. It is a culture like no other, where everything is the product of a single artist's fantasy, which is then accompanied by pictures and stories.” Some popular manga include Astro Boy, Naruto and One Piece.
Further into our discussion, Kawakubo points out the socio-cultural impact of the global phenomenon of manga itself. He shared saying, “For me personally, manga is entertainment. It is a form of entertainment that allows you to escape from reality for a moment. I think it is up to each person's viewpoint on life to decide what he or she wants and finds in entertainment. I believe that Southeast Asia has for a long time been reading manga with little delay after any release in Japan, and many people are watching manga and anime in Japanese without waiting for localisation. I believe that there are many people who become interested in Japan because of this, and I believe that they are one of the triggers that connect countries within society.”
The exhibition is curated in a fascinating manner, and I don’t say that simply because of the enchantment of the work, or the diverse group of people who contributed to its construction. It also begins by giving the viewer the choice of two exhibition routes. Generally, an art curator would develop the narrative around the viewing of the work, keeping in mind factors like placement, chronology or media, when constructing the exhibition route. In this particular show, we are presented at the outset with a red door and a blue door (cue the Matrix reference!). Ito shared what drove this curatorial decision, noting that it represents two factions within the manga, “We believe that both sides are right in their own way, and that this can be felt more prominently by seeing it from each point of view…”.
Ito went on to add, “You can choose which route to take. However, the characters in the story did not have this choice. Although the two routes will meet afterwards, I hope that visitors will view the exhibition with that in mind. While what the viewer feels is all that matters, I would be happy if they could sense something that is part of the essence of what is depicted in this work, and not something that is completely unrelated to them.” Although manga tend to have fantastical themes, often magical, surreal or transcendental, they can also be seen as explorations of the human psyche, and investigations into our natural behaviour patterns, and the way they translate into societal structures.
Ito also expressed his hopes for the viewer’s takeaways from the exhibition, “One of the things that this work expresses is that it is not completely unrelated to the reader, and there is something that is linked to the reader’s ‘own story’. We believe that we have created an exhibition that will be of interest to those who have never read or heard of Attack on Titan.”