Essence of an Onnagata: Prints from 18th- to 20th-Century Japan

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    Tōshūsai Sharaku (act. 1793-1794, Japan) 'The Onnagata Actor Iwai Hanshiro,' Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1794. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, mica Gift of Mrs. C.M. Cooke, Sr. 1939 (06439).

March 26, 2015 - May 24, 2015
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

Embodying the essence of femininity, the onnagata (male actors who impersonate women) role is characteristic of Kabuki theater. Onnagata also became symbols of the ideal woman through their portrayal of virtuous traits and served as fashion icons.

Essence of an Onnagata showcases 28 woodblock prints from the 18th–20th centuries, including prints by Utagawa Kunisada and Natori Shunsen. Spanning 300 years, the show traces illustrious Kabuki families and ukiyo-e schools. Among the woodblock prints on view are The Onnagata Actor Iwai Hanshiro by the acclaimed printmaker Tōshūsai Sharaku. During his short period of activity, Sharaku challenged previous artists’ idealized depictions of onnagata and instead portrayed actors in a realistic manner that emphasized their unique personas.