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The Sexy Flowers of Michiko Yao


By Pilar Tompkins Rivas

Michiko Yao is an interdisciplinary artist born in Osaka, Japan, who received both her B.F.A. and M.F.A in Southern California at CalArts. Her work explores the relationship between Western and Eastern imperialism, and references unique social behaviors and fantasies of contemporary Japan. Yao’s practice, encompassing video, photography and installation, uses specific Japanese historical and aesthetic signifiers, ranging from the legacy of Dutch hegemony, to ikebana (the art of Japanese flower arrangement), to modern fetish sub-cultures.

By traversing a broad timeframe of Japanese culture, Yao seeks to expose the underpinnings of current societal ideals of gender roles and consumerist pastimes. In works like Habitus(2009), the artist assumes the role of scientific observer in the tradition of German physician and botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold who studied Japanese flora and fauna during his stay on Dejima, a Dutch-operated trading post off the coast of Nagasaki, in the 19th century. Drawing an overt correlation between flower blossoms and feminine youth, delicacy and genitalia, Yao categorizes the unique fetish genres embraced by contemporary Japanese women as florae caught in specimen jars.

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