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Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art at the British Museum

Posted at 3:00 pm, October 2, 2013 in Arts & Entertainment
Shunga cat

How often do you associate the British Museum with sex? Sure, there are some saucy cabinets tucked away but it’s probably not your first port of call for a sexy old time. That’s all about to change with their new show Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art opening on October 3 (running until Jan 5). ‘Shunga’ is a term for a style of sexually explicit art work created in Japan between 1600-1900. You may have seen the odd piece in various exhibitions before, but now the the British Museum is bringing together the biggest collection the UK has ever seen.

Once you finish giggling over the comically large genitalia (and it is BIG), you’ll learn about the history of shunga, how it was used and why it was made. This isn’t just plain old pornography, oh no, these drawings have real beauty, artistic talent and humour (as demonstrated by the spellbinding gif above). Unusually, they’re all about pleasure for both the man and the woman involved, with lots of marital scenes, cheating spouses and naughty teenagers getting down and dirty, which perhaps explains why shunga was used as a sort of sex manual for newlyweds, talismen for warriors and titillation for both sexes. There’s some really amazing things in there so bring an open mind. That said, maybe avoid going on a first date or with your parents, unless you want to feel extremely awkward.

Alongside the exhibition, there’s a series of events including a discussion about women and pleasure, a talk about ‘shunga’ and its relationship with the wider world and an introduction to Japanese woodblock printing. Find out more about ‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art’.

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