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Plastic toys, bundles of fake fur, stuffed animals, and other accoutrements of manufactured cuteness clutter the walls of Kianga Ellis Projects in Japanese creator Sebastian Masuda’s first United States exhibition. Better known as a fashion designer, Tokyo-based Masuda is a leader of the Harajuku kawaii culture where the adorable has an undercurrent of rebellious edge.
Appropriately, then, Masuda’s installation that opened last month in Chelsea is called Colorful Rebellion, with the subtitle of “Seventh Nightmare.” As he proclaims in his statement: “I have created this work as if I was writing my own autobiography.” And in the small space of the room covered on all sides with the collage of multicolored material you can follow with a handy gallery map his different reflections on “the various mortal sins I have committed, or to which I have fallen prey, through my life thus far.”
There’s a “zone” for desire, the future, delusion, fate, wounds, and reality, with the seventh zone (a reference to the seven deadly sins), “entrusted in your hands.” Although there’s definitely something a bit dark at play — like the giant one-eyed teddy bear that Mike Kelley might not have minded for his collection — it feels overall like an exuberant explosion from Masuda’s brain, demonstrating that adept perspective he has on mixing a frenzy of materials into a fluid fashion of youth. (This has most visibly been seen through his influential and long-running Harajuku shop 6% Doki Doki.)
Nevertheless, he states that “I am not trying to express the grotesque through kawaii elements; rather, the essence of kawaii exists in the process by which individuals are attracted to, and become dependent on, kawaii things.” In the center of an installation is a bed with dirty sheets, a hair brush resting on a pile of books that seems out of place, yet from there you could gaze up and fall into the manic shades created by collecting the cute.
During my Saturday visit, there was a whole line of young girls in what my more knowledgeable friend identified as perfected Babydoll Lolita fashion, there to likely get the most immersive kawaii experience currently going in New York City. Whether or not Masuda’s deeper message of material reliance, a curious one for someone so embedded in a fashion rooted in material, resonated, is really up to how you approach it. Yet it’s worth a visit to see Masuda taking on this experiment of commenting on kawaii culture in his first presentation in a New York gallery.
Sebastian Masuda: Colorful Rebellion is at Kianga Ellis Projects (516 West 25th Street, Studio 306B, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 29.