Horned Noh mask of a Hannya (an angry female spirit)

Place details: ASIA. Japan. Unknown. Cultural Group: Japanese ? Middle Edo Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Wood Plant / Pigment / Copper Alloy Metal / ?. Processes: Painted / Carved / ?. Weight: 206.3 g Dimensions: Max L = 220 mm Max W = 170 mm When Collected: ?Prior to 1880 Acquired: Donated 1884 Other Numbers: 350 PR No.: 350/ 11351

KEYWORD: Mask / CLASS: Mask / Theatre / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: Featured in Out in Oxford: An LGBTQ+ Trail of the University of Oxford's Collections. Part of 'Celebrating Diversity' a project funded by Arts Council England via the Oxford University Museums Partnership and created with the LGBTQ+ community. [NC 16/02/2017]

See booklet Out in Oxford: An : An LGBTQ+ Trail of the University of Oxford's Collections (published by University of Oxford) [in RDF]: Noh (Nō) theatre has a fluid approach to gender; its actors perform both male and female roles with sophisticated masks. This example is a typical representation of Hannya, a woman betrayed by her lover, whose jealous rage transforms her into a demon. Although it seems like a simple prop, it is a sacred object that allows the actor to become one with a character, regardless of their own gender. Noh shares with modern gender theorists the view that gender is not the same as biological sex, but something that is performed through stylised actions. For example, in the 14th century women in Japan were banned from performing or even learning Noh. Female characters were then represented by male actors – they wore masks and altered their body movements to convey gendered traits. Since the 1950s, women’s participation in Noh theatre has witnessed a resurgence: today there are around 250 professional actresses who perform male and female characters (by Ruby Gilding). [NC 16/02/2017]

See webpage: http://www.glam.ox.ac.uk/outinoxford-prm [printout in RDF] : Many plays and stories that are popular from the Heian period (794-1185) onwards in Japan deal with the concept of gender as performative or changeable – decided by gendered actions rather than biological sex. This can be seen on a very basic level by the Pitt Rivers’ large collection of masks used in Nō (能) theatre, where men perform all genders. The Ashmolean similarly has a netsuke (根付), a carved toggle used to attach purses to traditional Japanese dress, which shows the popular semi-historical ‘warrior-woman’ (Onna-bugeisha, 女武芸者) Tomoe Gozen (巴 御前), as well as a 19th century print of another Onna-bugeisha, Hangaku Gozen (坂額御前) [1]. Stories of both Tomoe and Hangaku, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries, are common. They are portrayed as the paragon of both masculine and feminine, being “fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower”. This idea of being ideal, irrespective, or in spite of, gender, is also reflected in the term Bishōnen (美少年). The term means a ‘beautiful youth’, but historically carries homosocial and homoerotic tones, allowing a non-traditional outlet for gender relations.  Although Bishōnen is more commonly applied to men, it describes a female in Torikaebaya Monogatari (とりかへばや物語); a female living as a man. The title means ‘If only I could exchange them! story’ and tells of two siblings who better fit the opposite gender (the English translation in the Bodleian Library is titled: ‘The Changelings’). In the story, a tengu (天狗), or spirit, curses two siblings to be discontent with their biological sex, essentially ‘gender dysphoria’. They are raised as a male-woman and a female-man, and so pass to adulthood and the court as such. It is an erotic story, and much focuses on the female courtier’s (Chūnagon, 中納言) dalliances with women. Other tales of Heian literature deal with male same-sex relationships (nanshoku, 男色) and the interchangeability of gender. In ‘The Tale of Genji’ (Genji monogatari, 源氏物語), spurned by a sister, Genji instead takes her pretty brother. In the existing diaries of contemporary aristocrats, Ōe Tadafusa, Fujiwara Yorinaga and Fujiwara Kanezane, it is clear that these relationships were not just in literature.  This gender variance is also seen in Nō (能) and Kabuki (歌舞伎) theatre, as women were forbidden from acting, as in Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England. One very famous Onnagata (女形), woman-playing male, said one could only do it well if they “lived as a woman in ordinary life”. Such actors, living as women, were deeply admired and attracted lovers of both sexes. The prevalence of any-gendered lovers remained in Japan until the 18th century, when increased contact with Christian Europe led to a decrying of homosexuality and the beginning of an oppressive two centuries for Japanese LGBTQ+ people (by Victoria Sainsbury). [NC 17/02/2017]