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Masami Teraoka




Gaye Chan
Kaili Chun
Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Robin Kandel
John Morita
Katsushige Nakahashi
Masami Teraoka
Lynne Yamamoto
With the Twin Towers tragedy the American world fell from heaven to hell. The attack created unprecedented ideological, moral, and spiritual chaos, along with physical and mental security issues. Our world became Dante’s Inferno. Morally and spiritually we sought resolution and answers.1

Using the visual vocabulary of Hieronymus Bosch, Masami Teraoka explores the moral and spiritual crisis left in the wake of 9/11. In the evening following that horrific day, impromptu shrines were constructed, people gathered to light candles, leave flowers, to pray and sing. In addition, places of worships – churches and temples – witnessed a sharp increase in attendance. Faced with this moral and spiritual crisis individuals searching for clarity in a world turned ‘on its head,’ sought solace in the discourses of the sacred. Like Bosch, however, Teraoka’s work illustrates moral and spiritual panic in such a way that pessimism appears to overshadow hope and the grotesque nature of the imagery oscillates somewhere between condemnation and humor. Teraoka’s work brings to mind the provocative question that closes, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s short film, “Does God’s light guide us or blind us?”

In our post-9/11 era, after the initial moral and spiritual crisis has seemingly subsided, the compulsion to seek solace in religious and ritualistic discourses has dissipated, and turned to its close associate: violence. Teraoka’s work in its application of religious iconography and form, its violent content and color palette (sickly greens, moribund skin tones), slips between the paradigm of violence and the sacred. As René Girard observes in his book, Violence and the Sacred, “Violence is the heart and secret soul of the sacred.”2
  It is ritual (or its twin the aesthetic experience) that releases us from its horrifying grip. “Ritual,” Girard comments, “is nothing more than the regular exercise of ‘good’ violence.”3  There are other examples of this in art history, such as Hermann Nitsch,4 whose performances were exactly that, an exercise of ‘good’ violence designed to channel violent energy, to sublimate it. “The function of ritual is to ‘purify’ violence,”  and it is through ritualistic practices, according to Girard, that keep violence from getting out of hand by allowing it to surface in a proscribed manner.5 Teraoka’s work illustrates how the ‘failure’ of ritualistic discourses to contain ‘violence and the sacred’ is sublimated by bringing war to others.

In the context of this exhibition most especially, exhibited together with Katsushige Nakahashi’s work, the historical significance of Teraoka’s work finds ascendants in past conflicts. The post-9/11 world has given rise to a new ‘inquisition,’ where loyalties are subject to question, patriotism has replaced religious belief, and one’s political/social/religious affiliation might be sufficient cause to detain an individual. Apprehensive about past lapses in justice the State has created innocuous terms such as “rendering” to describe the abduction of terrorist suspects and flying them off to detention facilities outside the United States, and thus ‘permitting’ the State to detain an individual without charge for in perpetuity and placing the agents of the State and the detainee beyond any legal oversight whatsoever. Coupling the imagery of State and religious power, Teraoka’s work not only illustrates the moral and spiritual crisis of contemporary culture, but the repressive aspects of power that demands loyalty, patriotism and a blind faith in the State’s ability to protect us. Sexuality, a theme that runs throughout Teraoka’s work, as an innate human experience, in the context of post-9/11 history, functions as a metaphor for the degree to which the State’s repression manifests in our daily lives: our private suspicion of others, a tacit understanding that the government must lie to us in order to save us.

Also see Masami Teraoka's website: http://www.MasamiTeraoka.com


  1. Masami Teraoka, “Modern Inferno: Post-9/11 Paintings,” The Virginia Quarterly Review vol. 80, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 85.
  2. René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989), 31.
  3. Girard, 37.
  4. Hermann Nitsch (b. August 29, 1938) is an Austrian performance artist and painter. He was a founding member of the Aktionismus group (the Viennese Actionists) in 1964. Nitsch’s performance work incorporated the use of animal carcasses and animal blood. He would also use animal blood as paint. Through these works Nitsch ritualistically exercised violence, attempting to arrive at catharsis – a purging of the innate violence inhabiting the human body.
  5. Girard, 36.

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teraoka


Semana Santa / Venus's Security Check, 2004, Oil on wood with gold leaf frame, 119" x 96-1/2 x 2-3/4"


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Venus' Serpentine Confession, 2003, Oil & acrylic on board in gold leaf frame, 38" x 44" x 1-1/2"



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