Sadomasochism, forniphilia and female domination are all themes that reoccur frequently in Namio Harukawa’s groundbreaking work. Born in 1947, the famed Japanese artist forged a 40-year career with his unique pencil drawings exploring the aforementioned matters. In a new book published by Baron Books, the eponymous publication posthumously shines a light on an archive of rarely seen before works, bringing Namio’s subculture-centred ideas to the fore.
The artist’s work typically sees voluptuous women dominating and humiliating smaller men. This subject has been praised and probed by global feminist scholars who examine the role of submission and gender in sex. This is seen in the introduction of the recently published book where Pernilla Ellens – an academic, art curator and editor – analyses Namio’s work in an essay Take My Breath Away, where she addresses themes of body positivity and representation as cited through history to make a case for the genius of Namio’s pencil illustrations. She also investigates the portrayal of male subjects throughout the artist’s work. In the pencil drawings, male characters are faceless, insignificant and emasculated: “always used for the pleasure of the female subjects,” Matthew Holroyd, co-founder and director of Baron Productions tells us. “This is in huge contrast to the way men have power in our patriarchal society. In reality, men are in charge and oppress women.”
The co-founder tells us more about the recently published pivotal book and its relevance to visual art and culture today. “As a proud queer business owner,” he tells us, “I am always looking for work that challenges heteropatriarchy which started with Baron Magazine.” In making the mag, Matthew created a fictional character known as The Baron, a spoof editor loosely based on the Hugh Hefner model where women are sexualised and objectified in magazines. “The Baron was stupid, vain, thoughtless and sexist,” says Matthew, “we constantly made fun of him on social networks and throughout the publication.”
In turn, many of Baron Productions’ releases have carried on this ironic narrative, challenging gender roles in their wake. So when Matthew came across Namio Harukawa’s work, where the heterosexual man is emasculated and crushed, he thought it would be a satisfying new addition to the Baron universe. As Baron Productions expands, most recently with the publishing imprint Baron Books which aligns with the company’s existing interests in sex and sexuality, the contemporary conceptual imprint hopes to inspire and provoke thought, including with this latest publication.
Unlike previous books on Namio’s work, this release sets itself apart for its analysis of how the artist’s work has helped to inform contemporary culture today. The artist’s first posthumous book, it was launched on the anniversary of his death and delves into his creative legacy. For Matthew, Namio’s legacy can be described as such: “Whilst I think the artist’s intention for the work are his fantasises, notably dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism, the importance of the work is that in the digital revolution, the work has found new contemporary relevance from feminists, fat liberators and LGBTQIA+ people sharing the work on social networks.”
The book sheds light on a myriad of topics, exploring nuanced expressions of gender and sexuality while also giving the reader an insight into BDSM culture. Fatphobia is turned on its head in Namio Harukawa’s provocative artworks as Ellen points out in her essay – big female subjects are not seen in a negative light or as unattractive, instead, they are depicted as beautiful, glamorous and above all, having a great time.
GalleryNamio Harukawa published by Baron (Copyright © Baron, 2021)
Namio Harukawa published by Baron (Copyright © Baron, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.