A Painting for the Emperor

From February 8 to May 31, 2018, the Johann Jacobs Museum presents an exhibition about Japanese sugar plantation workers in Hawai’i and, on the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, considers a key moment in the history of the modern world: the emergence of Japan as a global power.

In 1885, the King of Hawai‘i commissioned a large oil painting as a gift for the Emperor of Japan–but the painting never reached the Imperial Household. This exhibition displays the painting for the first time outside of Japan, reconstructing its historical context and the lives of its protagonists. The painting serves as a window onto the late-nineteenth century world of the Asia-Pacific region, a world that was transformed by the emergence of Meiji Japan as an international power.

In 2018, the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, we look back on Japan’s entanglement with the Pacific through its labourers, its commodities and the image it wanted to project overseas. A Painting for the Emperor invites you to cross oceans and genres of art, and to consider more generally practices of framing and unframing in the narration of history.

To link the historical material and the present-day, we have asked three contemporary artists to interpret this material using the means at their disposal.Japanese artist Aiko Tezuka isolates touching details from historical photographs by Eduard Arning; Tiffany Chung (Vietnam/USA) uses a montage process to combine old maps of Hawai’i; finally, Jürgen Stollhans (Germany) draws the bridge that Japanese new arrivals in Hawai’i had to cross after disembarking the ship.

In cooperation with the Chair for Global History, University of Zurich and the Chair for East Asian Art History, University of Zurich.