McNally School
of Fine Arts

Jenevieve Kok

Jenevieve Kok

MA Asian Art Histories
2022 — 2023

Jenevieve’s interest in art history began with a visit to the Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500-1900 exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum. There, she became intrigued by how paintings had the power to compellingly portray the cultural complexities of a particular period in history. This interest complemented her long-standing passion for war and military history, leading her to pursue the MA in Asian Art Histories degree at LASALLE.

Jenevieve’s research focuses on Japanese war art, and her MA thesis specifically investigates Japan’s war campaign documentary paintings of the Second World War. She hopes to build upon this research in the future by further exploring Japan’s war art as well as the war art of other Asian nations. She aspires to curate exhibitions that tell the story of the multifaceted relationship between art and war. 

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Thesis abstract

The Art of War: Conflict and nationalism in the Japanese paintings of the Second World War

This thesis investigates the representations of Japan’s wartime ideology and expressions of Japanese nationalism during the Second World War (WWII). Specifically, this paper embarks on a comparative investigation of the visual strategies and aesthetics between two primary forms of Japanese painting during this period: yōga (Western-style) War Campaign Documentary Paintings and independent nihonga (Japanese-style) paintings. 

Under the Japanese military’s commission, yōga war painters created dynamic oil paintings that documented scenes of war. Their works visually glorified the strength and successes of the Japanese military to raise morale among Japanese civilians and soldiers. Using the style of Western realism, these artists visually propagated the tenets of Japan’s wartime ideology through three main subject matter: (1) non-combat scenes of Japanese soldiers; (2) meetings of Japanese generals and the surrender of their enemies; and (3) aerial, naval, and ground battles.

While the yōga war painters chronicled the victories of the Japanese military, the independent nihonga artists similarly strove to support the war through their paintings. These artists were fervent nationalists who inconspicuously embedded the wartime ideology through traditional Japanese aesthetics. Unlike the yōga war painters, their works were devoid of direct references to the contemporary conflict of WWII. Instead, they embodied the state’s powerful ideological doctrines in their scenes of nature, historical warriors, and idealised women.

Despite their antithetical imagery and contrasting circumstances, the yōga war painters and independent nihonga artists shared a common goal. They dedicated their artistic careers to fighting the war on the 'cultural front' and strove to foster nationalism in the Japanese people.