Guest Blog: The Citi Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

I’m delighted to share a guest post from Nabilah Roghey! Nabilah studied alongside me and I follow her historical and cultural adventures on Facebook. I saw that she had been to the British Museum last week and asked if she’d like to share her experience on Historian Ruby.

What is manga? Manga is a Japanese art form that has its origins in the Handscrolls of Frolicking Animals from 1200AD and The Tale of the Monkeys in the late 1500s. Two hundred years later satirical novels were being published for the newly rich city dwellers. For me, this has parallels with Hogarth and his London contemporaries during the same period. Then in 1814, artist Katsushika Hokusai published his sketches in Hokusai Manga, without the narrative that we would now associate with modern manga. From the 1920s, manga developed into the comic strip style illustrations with minimal text that we are familiar with today. Its peak popularity was in the late twentieth century when in 1995 alone, 1.34 billion manga pieces were published.

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The Citi Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

Last Thursday, I visited the British Museum to see the new Special Manga Exhibition sponsored by Citi Bank. I’m not a huge fan of Manga and Anime, like some of my classmates/friends were and still are, but I did read and watch a little in my teens. However, I’ve always been fascinated with the country of Japan, its culture, its sights and its people. I hope to visit there one day. Hokusai is also one of my favourite artists and I know that his work was the inspiration for a lot of modern manga.

I was excited to see what I could learn about this vibrant and beautiful country with a rich history of art. I took one of my aforementioned school friends along with me, who has so much more knowledge about this subject than I do.

I was not disappointed! This exhibition taught me so many interesting facts, for example, that no one in particular invented manga as an art form, but that it originated from Japan’s love of visual storytelling throughout history.

It also had lots of cute characters, such as Eel-Dog from The End of Unagi-inu and Chi the cat from Chi’s Sweet Home. Right up my street!

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Pages from The End of Unagi-inu Manga about Eel’s Dog adventures
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A collage of pictures with Manga pages and a hanging poster/banner of Chi’s Sweet Home, an adorable and somewhat mischievous little kitten.

I was particularly enthralled by all the manga books on offer for visitors to read, displayed in a double-sided bookshelf in the middle of the exhibition. I picked up a few books and flicked through them. I enjoyed Frankenstein and Rohan at the Louvre (as I had just visited The Louvre in Paris less than a month ago).

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The cover of Rohan at the Louvre
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A page from inside

The most memorable object from the exhibition was the 17-metre long tapestry/stage curtain painted by Kawanabe Kyōsai, depicting actors in the 1880 Shintomi theatre as monsters. My camera really did not do it justice.

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My attempt at a panorama photo of Kyōsai’s stage curtain
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The middle section of Kyōsai’s stage curtain

I really would recommend coming here if you get the chance, especially as it’s only around for another week (finishing on 26th August). It really did open my eyes to the creativity of this wonderful art style and the fact that there is a manga for everyone, no matter what your age, gender or interests are.

If you’d like to learn more about the different genres of manga see here.

Reference: British Museum

Photos: Nabilah Roghey

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