The exhibition Ghosts and Hells: The Underworld in Asian Art presented at the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac focuses its attention on ghost stories from East and Southeast Asia, delving into the world of spirits, terror and fantastic creatures and their contemporary adaptations. A journey to the edges of reality, where cinema, religious art, theatre, contemporary design, manga and video games intersect.
From Hokusai prints to Pac-Man, from Buddhist paintings to J-Horror – Japanese horror cinema from the 1990s-2000s – with the film ‘Ring’, from the Thai spirit cults to horror manga, the figure of the ghost has haunted the Asian imagination for centuries. in China, Thailand and Japan – the lands that the exhibition focuses on – the popular infatuation with terror is very real, and one that permeates a wide variety of cultural productions. From spirits that wander the forest, vengeful cat-women and hungry spirits that return from the dead (‘the walking dead’) to hopping vampires and yokais (supernatural creatures in Japanese folklore), these can appear in multiple guises and freely cross artistic periods and media.
The exhibition Ghosts and Hells: The Underworld in Asian Art explores their representation in the performing arts, cinema and comic books. After all, whilst Buddhism has played its part in the formation of this imagination, it is indeed on the fringes of religion, in popular and secular art, that the representation of ghosts has truly come into its own.
The tour follows a thematic and geographical approach, alternating between eras to reveal the continuity of the representations of ghosts. the dialogue between ancient religious art, theatre, cinema, video games and comics illustrates the idea that ghosts never die and that their manifestations are unpredictable. Ghosts make their appearance across eras and artistic media.
A place is also dedicated to contemporary design: installations reproducing the underworld of the temples of Thailand, the production of mannequins and scenographic décors by a Thai special effects studio, the creation of works for the exhibition by contemporary Asian artists, video montages, ghostly hologram apparitions and giant ghost sculptures.