Sometimes a picture says more than a thousand words. This is especially true for Tomoko Sawada's photo series. Commenting on a generation in search of identity and concerned with physical appearance and self-perception, her works display her sensitive awareness of societal dynamics and an almost compulsive need to make a statement and evoke a variety of questions. Reminiscent of Cindy Sherman's conceptual self-portraits, both Sawada's Masquerade (Lot 616) and Costume (Lot 617) series are comprehensive depictions of Japan's modern-day women.
Sawada's Masquerade I-50, is a series of fifty colored photographs - costumed self-portraits - in which the artist is both revealed and hidden, named and nameless. The medium of photography allows her to explore different sides of women as expressive individuals and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. While in painting an artist's self-portrait is often the result of his very personal, well thought-out self-perception, a photographic self-portrait, which varies from an accidental snapshot to a meticulously planned photo shooting, depends on technological devices, lighting, make up, outfit, setting, etc. to reach the desired result. In the age of postmodern pluralism, the multiple self and the question whether it is a unity or should be conceived as divided, has been widely explored in a variety of disciplines. This dialogue finds expression in Masquerade. Trying on a dizzying variety of hairstyles and accouterments, Sawada transforms herself into an amazingly vast and diverse population of types. Reminiscent of headshot photographs, which call attention to the stereotyping of women in film, television and magazines, her facial expressions in these photographs vary from blunt, kittenish, babyish, sheepish, and scholarly to sexy or openly smiling. In one incarnation she wears a sophisticated up-do, another time frizzy and badly dyed hair; once she approximates a Japanese bobble-head doll and yet another time she wears childish pigtails. What unifies this variety of individuals is that they are part of a generation in search of identity and uniqueness in their being. By portraying herself as all these girls, she associates herself with this generation and expresses social criticism by evoking the question of whether women should be playing a role in order to reveal their personality. Sawada has carried out her photography series with impressive thoroughness, but it's not her photography so much as her performing self that is so riveting, taking the photographic self-portrait to a new level.
In Costume, three carefully composed color photographs show the artist herself in different outfits ('costumes'), locations and situations. Taking on different identities, she transforms into individuals from all walks of life, social classes and occupations, reflective of Japan's society. In Okami she kneels on a tatami floor of a traditional Japanese room, dressed in a Kimono, slightly bowing with a gentle smile. With that she refers to the host of the Japanese Onsen Hotel. Traditionally used as public bathing houses, today these hotels play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism. In Tkushi-Doraiva (taxi driver) she is portrayed as an uniformed taxi driver with a white hat greeting the passengers with a grim-looking face, while in Bijitsu-Kancho (museum director) she is portrayed as a tough career women, standing in her office, dressed in a black suit with a tight pony-tail, red framed reading glasses and a pearl necklace. Sawada's Costume series is a portrayal of women of the 21st century and offers a diverse insight to Japan's multifaceted society, which, on the one hand, strives to protect traditional values and on the other hand, embraces modernity and progress. She treats this dilemma with a fine sense of humor by mocking all three - the submissive, traditional housewife, the robust worker and the determined career women. At the same time, she identifies with these women and recognizes the wide scope of issues they face by being a part of this society. Hence, she touches upon topics such as Feminism, economical independence of women, and the shift in the perception of a women's public and domestic role. Like in Masquerade, Sawada's real identity remains hidden, while her complex message is manifested in her portraits.
Her video work Appearance (Lot 616) is an elaborate study of facial expressions. On a white background, the artist appears in the middle of the screen, wearing a sleeveless black turtle neck shirt, her hair tied back neatly to completely expose the face. Using time-lapse techniques, her fifty minute video shows an accelerated sequence of facial expressions. Because of the overall speed of the video and the natural and non-exaggerated expressions, one can truly focus on the subtle, yet distinctive changes in every part of her face, emphasizing how crucial even the slightest change in our expression is for our communication. This work displays once more Sawada's fascination as well as her obsession with physical appearance and self-expression.