GEISHA INK 芸者インクby Reka Nyari
Reka Nyari’s erotically charged photographs engage cultural narratives surrounding gender and sexuality. A master at the art of storytelling, Nyari’s newest series, GEISHA INK, documents Ginzilla, a dramatically-posed young woman whose naked body is lavishly-adorned with tattoos.
A champion of feminine fortitude, Nyari has long been fascinated with the art of capturing women without pretense. Recognizing strength in the vulnerability of the nude female form, she chooses most often to photograph women. In doing so, Nyari circumvents aspects of performativity experienced within the masculine/feminine gender dynamic, no doubt informing the remarkable veracity of her portraiture.
Her ground-breaking series GEISHA INK advances themes persistent throughout Nyari’s oeuvre; these striking images convey the power and strength of her subject, inviting the viewer to bear witness to her model’s story.
Our depicted heroine was born into a traditional family of uncompromisingly strict conservative-values. The effect was suffocating to her wild heart, engendering acts of rebellion perhaps most visible as the arresting marks of defiance, written in permanent-ink on the canvas of her body. These images tell the story of her life; illustrations of tigers, wolves, and dragons contrast societal expectations of female submission and obedience. Ginzilla’s first lover was a tattoo artist, a predilection which has guided her sexual journey. All of her body-art was composed and executed by lovers, compounding its personal meaning to her, while providing a veritable map of her life. Edgy, raw, and resilient, Nyari depicts her subject as a woman whose sexuality is defined independent of a man.
These dynamic photographs re-envision traditional concepts of femininity by juxtaposing the symbolism of the Japanese ‘Geisha’ with that of Yakuski (Japanese gangster) tattoos (Irezumju). Irezumju tattoos require a painful, meticulous method of manually inserting needles into the skin. Associated with the criminal activity of the Yakuski gangs, members would brand themselves with Irezumi tattoos. Due to its painful process, Irezumju is considered a mark of the recipient’s bravery, and evidence of their insubordination. Despite the widening trend of tattoos among non-yakuza, they still carry a significant stigma in Japanese society.
Chosen for exhibition in Personal Structures are three images from the series. These works are put in dialogue with one another and displayed as a trinity, referencing both eastern and Judeo-Christian religious iconography. In doing so, Nyari elevates her model to that of Goddess, or perhaps, the Virgin Mary, subverting concepts of purity and sexuality, religion and sin. She is presented for the viewer’s meditative contemplation as a symbol of strength, defiance, and unapologetic female desire; her body on-display for worship, the tattoos adorning it, as-if prayer-beads of a rosary.
GEISHA INK tells the intoxicating story of Ginzilla, revealing and subverting female archetypes through a visual exploration of sexuality, taboos, eroticism and culture.