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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

Katagami in the West

International Conference, March 18–19, 2016


Prof. Dr. Hans B. Thomsen


Department of Art History, Section for East Asian Art History and URPP Asia and Europe


Friday, March 18: University of Zurich, Main Building, Room KOL F-118, Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zürich
Saturday, March 19: University of Zurich, Room KO2 F-152, Karl Schmid-Strasse 4, 8006 Zürich


The purpose of the symposium is to look at the phenomenon of Japanese katagami textile stencils from various angles. Through discoveries in the last decade, thanks to the pioneering work of Akiko Mabuchi, Yuki Ikuta, and others, we have come to understand that the historical relationship between katagami and the western world has been profound, both in number and in the intensity of their receptions.  Nonetheless, during much of the 20th century katagami have been almost entirely neglected by western curators and scholars, as hundreds of thousands continue their sleep in museum storages. One of our purposes is to resurrect this forgotten relationship and to understand the extent of katagami collections in the West and their receptions by western artists and designers.  

Among the topics discussed will be:

  • The use of katagami in western art schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  • The use of katagami in interior decoration in the same time
  • The connections between katagami and western textile design
  • The popularization of katagami in late 19th and early 20th centuries through western publications
  • The dealers and middlemen of the trade in katagami 
  • The exhibitions of the katagami
  • The size and nature of present-day katagamiholdings in the West and Japan
  • The provenance of the Western collections of katagami
  • The connections between katagami and western art movements, such as Jugendstil

Building on successful exhibitions in Paris (2006), Vienna (2009), Dormagen (2011), Hamburg (2011), Dresden (2014–5), Textile Museum of St Gallen (2014), Historical and Ethnographic Museum of St. Gallen (2014–15), and above all, the ground-breaking Katagami Style exhibition in Japan (2012), the topic of the katagami has become an up-and-coming topic with great scholarly and popular potential, both within academia and the museum world.

We hope to see the various problems related to the katagami from western perspectives as well as those of Japan. For this reason we have invited leading scholars from Japan, Europe, and USA. In addition, we hope to have reports on individual collections in the West and in Japan and plan to have an excursion following the symposium in order to visit one or more katagami collections in Switzerland.

The collections of the katagami are truly phenomenal in number. Large collections of ten thousand sheets or more have been found in Dresden, Vienna, and Aarau, and other collections pepper the landscape: in Switzerland there are important collection in, for example, Bern, St Gallen, Basel, Zürich, and Aarau.

They are also numerous examples in nearby textile centers such as Lyon and Mulhouse. In fact, it is unusual for European museums – especially those of arts and crafts – not to have collection of katagami in their storage.

We hope to show that, although Japanese woodblock prints are often given sole credit for receptions of Japanese art in the west, the katagami held at a time, just as important roles as transmitters of Japanese art and design. We hope to resurrect the roles, the receptions, and the histories of these objects in this symposium, which marks the first international symposium on the topic.

Weiterführende Informationen

Financial Support

The conference is supported by the Zurich Silk Association, the Toshiba International Foundation, the National Museum of Japanese History (Rekihaku), and the National Institutes for the Humanities.