The Erotic World of Nobuyoshi Araki at NYC’s Museum of Sex

Last week, The Museum of Sex in NYC opened the biggest U.S. retrospective of the work of cult Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Sophia Larigakis revisits the prolific photographer’s work and influence.

Born in Tokyo in 1940, Japanese cult photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is best known for his black and white images of women engaged in Kinbaku, a Japanese form of bondage. Araki’s body of work, however, is vast. He is prolific. Over 500 books of his photographs have been published since the beginning of his career. He has lent his lens to fashion photography and filmmaking, in addition to, of course, fine art photography. The span and range of his career is nearly unparalleled, and yet his images never suffer from a malaise of mass production, so to speak. That is, his is not an issue of quantity over quality. Araki’s work contends with a lifetime’s worth of subjects, in particular eroticism, ritual, mortality and the complex exchange between artist and subject.

nobuyoshi araki suicide in tokyo
From Suicide in Tokyo (2002/2008)

Araki’s gaze is unflinching, insistent. His work, an oeuvre that spans more than five decades, betrays a preoccupation with both the limitations and ecstatic revelations of the image. An attempt to photograph the unphotographable – death and the orgasm – is a refrain in his work. Though not the first to become fascinated by the intimate relationship between death and the erotic, Araki’s idiosyncratic – iconic – approach to the subject makes one feel as though he were. There is also something gleefully irreverent about his photographs. Although technically and (in some senses) traditionally beautiful, Araki’s photographs are suffused – tainted, in the best, most perverted sense –  with his punk verve and enthusiasm for transgression. His images are never just beautiful. They are rawly erotic to the point of debauchery, and self-aware to the point of cheekiness. Beauty, for Araki, is only interesting in its dialectical sense – fleeting, obscene, on the precipice of becoming its inverse.

From Paysages avec couleurs (1991)
nobuyoshi araki alluring hell
From Alluring Hell (2008)

Today, the Museum of Sex in NYC is opening the largest-ever U.S. retrospective of Araki’s works to date. On view at The Incomplete Araki: Sex, Life, and Death in the Works of Nobuyoshi Araki are 150+ prints, 500 polaroids, 400+ books and other visual artefacts. The exhibition is highly interactive, using sound and tactile access to media to enhance viewers’ experiences of Araki’s colossal archive. The show takes a contextual approach, emphasizing the photographer’s work in conversation with both art historical discourses and Araki’s position as a Japanese artist grappling with image-making in the wake of World War II. I recommend going to see it, and then following it up with a trip to the MOSex’s notoriously good gift shop.

Sophia Larigakis is a Canadian writer and editor living in New York City, and an editor at Slutever.



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