The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

The Power of Images: The National Museum of Ethnology Collection


The history of the human being is a history of images. Images preceded writing and can also be seen as the origin of language. Visualizing the state of the world through shapes and colors is a basic human endowment.

Are there universal features of the creation and perception of images that can be appreciated by all human beings?

The exhibition "The Power of Images: The National Museum of Ethnology Collection" sets out to directly address this question. In this exhibition, we have carefully selected objects from the National Museum of Ethnology collection and attempted to join the viewer in experientially verifying whether or not there is a universal quality inherent in the sensations and effects that are aroused by images created by the human being – or in other words, the mechanism of images and the condition of appreciating them. Thus, rather than classifying these images based on geographical region or historical period, we have focused on their from and artistry, their effect and function.

The galleries contain various objects created in the course of everyday life by a variety of ethnic groups all over the world to works by currently active artists. By coming into contact with the overwhelming power of images that stem from ritualistic practices, the lambency of hybrid forms that arise from cultural exchanges, and the dynamism conveyed by images from our globalized contemporary society.

This exhibition has been realized through collaboration between the National Museum of Ethnology and the National Art Center, Tokyo, with additional cooperation from the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology. The exhibition was held at the National Art Center, Tokyo (19 February 2014 – 9 June 2014), attracting much attention. Now the same exhibition is held at the National Museum of Ethnology. The exhibition will also provide us with an opportunity to reconsider some of the distinctions we take for granted, such as art and artifact, art museum and ethnology museum, art history and cultural anthropology, and Western and non-Western.

We hope that you will be able to savor the power of images as a universal part of human culture.

September 2014

National Museum of Ethnology
The National Art Center, Tokyo