Speaker: Honorary Associate Professor Michael Harrington, School of Languages and Cultures

Title: Jacoulet’s gaze


Paul Jacoulet (1896-1960) was a French woodblock artist who spent nearly his entire life in Japan. He was one of a handful of Western print artists before and after WWII who interpreted the Orient to a largely Euro-American audience. Jacoulet’s work depicts Asian and Pacific Islander peoples from across the social strata observed in his travels around the Japanese empire in the 1930s. His distinctive style and subject matter defies easy categorization, being variously described as ethnographic documentation, proto-psychedelic fantasy, homoeroticism, and kitsch. Some observers have characterised his work as a bridge between the East and West, while others place it defiantly outside both traditions. More recently, Jacoulet work has come under attack as an exponent of the Western gaze in modern art, that is, as exotic depictions by a Western (typically male)  artist of other peoples and cultures that embed power relationships between the artist and the subject that, among other things, are essentially racist and sexist.

Jacoulet thus finds himself in the same boat as Paul Gauguin, arguably the poster boy for the Western gaze. Gauguin’s Tahitian art is the target of increasingly strident demands for critical re-assessment if not cancellation. The question examined here is whether Jacoulet’s Micronesian and North Asian art deserves the same treatment. While there are a number of interesting parallels between Jacoulet and Gauguin in life and art, there are also significant differences.

Should Jacoulet be canceled? I will consider Jacoulet’s work in terms of the various uses of gaze in the critical literature. These include male gaze, white gaze, imperialist/postcolonial gaze and tourist gaze.  Key features of the respective constructs are identified and their applicability to Jacoulet’s work discussed. As a conclusion, I will suggest that Jacoulet’s work is neither racist nor sexist, but rather understood better as a unique combination of observation and imagination that seeks to portray little-known cultures and cultural practices to an audience with little background but with interest, empathy and, admittedly, a taste for the exotic.

The seminar will be held in-person in room 32-410 however there is also the option to login via Zoom, ID number 83579432569.

About Studies in Culture Seminar Series

Through the scholarly analysis of many different kinds of cultural products, texts and phenomena, Studies in Culture brings together researchers who seek to understand how the world is understood differently by people coming from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Researchers in this cluster work on literature, film, music, theatre, the visual arts, intangible heritage, testimonies and historical narratives.

Research in Studies in Culture within the School centres around four broad sub-themes of Heritage, memory and trauma studies; Intellectual and cultural history; Literature; and Film and visual cultures.

To view more on the research and interests of the Studies in Culture cluster, please click here.


Gordon Greenwood Building #32