Cuteness alert as Doraemon Exhibition lands in Singapore

SPH Brightcove Video
A selection of artists has reinterpreted the iconic cartoon character Doraemon at a new National Museum exhibition. It is the first time the collection has been seen outside Japan and now features exhibits by Singaporean artists.

SINGAPORE – Kawaii cuteness has arrived. For the first time outside of Japan, Doraemon-inspired artworks by top Japanese artists, original drawings of the robot cat and even themed confectionery will be available at the Doraemon Exhibition Singapore 2022.

Hosted by the National Museum of Singapore (NMS), the exhibition was first staged in Japan in 2002, then restaged in 2017. It has since toured nine cities in Japan, receiving some 600,000 visitors.

Fans will want to see the early iterations of Doraemon and the cast of characters in the early manga series. Doraemon has been translated into 17 languages and appears in 20 countries and regions across platforms including comics, television and movies.

Hugely popular in Japan, the Doraemon phenomenon can also be felt in the world of art, influencing the likes of renowned artists like Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Both artists will be featured in the exhibition together with 26 other Japanese artists and artist groups, as well as two Singapore artists – Leslie Kee and Jahan Loh. The Singaporeans were specially commissioned to create original artworks.

Speaking to The Straits Times via Zoom, Murakami says: “Everybody in Japan knows Doraemon. He is on television almost every day. It’s like breathing air.”

On the impact the character has had on his art practice, the artist says: “Like air, I cannot tell you how Doraemon has influenced me. Air is air – (Doraemon) is like breathing.”

There is a serious side to all this kawaii cuteness.

Explaining the popularity of Doraemon, manga and anime in Japan, Murakami says it began almost 80 years ago after World War II. “We had to find entertainment on a very low budget. Manga culture is very cheap. I think this was the post-World War II reality. It was part of the Japanese people’s mindset,” he adds.

The exhibition, spanning over 1,300 sq m of gallery floor area, is copyrighted by Fujiko-Pro and presented by multi-label retail brand Leyouki, with support from NMS.

In 2020, NMS had presented a Doraemon showcase called Doraemon’s Time-Travelling Adventures in Singapore. While there were Doraemon figurines, that earlier showcase did not feature artworks.

Interestingly, Ms Chung May Khuen, director of NMS, reveals that 30 per cent of the visitors who attended then had never been to NMS before. “Following the success of that showcase, many of our visitors shared that they were interested to learn more about this iconic character,” she says.

Japanese artist Mika Ninagawa's A tale Of My Dear Dora On A Date (2017) at The Doraemon Exhibition Singapore 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

To make it an immersive experience, the exhibition also gives the visitors a taste of Japanese culture with a Doraemon-themed pop-up cafe by the famous Toraya Confectionery.

Here are some highlights that should not be missed:

1. Manga Doraemon – Original Drawings Exhibition

This section comprises more than 70 drawings and sketches on 127 panels. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The exhibition starts with a display of original drawings and sketches of Doraemon, created in 1970 by the Japanese manga (comics) artist Hiroshi Fujimoto, better known as Fujiko F. Fujio. Born in 1933, he is considered part of the first generation of contemporary manga artists and is a legend in this field.

Seen for the first time outside of Japan, this section comprises more than 70 drawings and sketches on 127 panels, as well as selected highlights from Doraemon: The Movie series. There is also a reproduction of the artist’s desk where he created many of his drawings, as well as his drawing tools, books and toy figurines such as dinosaurs that inspired his manga universe.

Look out for manga featuring Doraemon’s famous gadgets including Memory Bread and the Lying Mirror.

2. Takashi Murakami – Wouldn’t It Be Nice If We Could Do Such A Thing (2017)

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami's My Summer Vacation With My Little Brother And Doraemon (2002, left) and Wouldn't It Be Nice If We Could Do Such A Thing (2017) at The Doraemon Exhibition Singapore 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

When the artist Takashi Murakami was approached to take part in the first Doraemon exhibition in 2002, he was told an anecdote about Fujio that greatly impressed him. “I was told that he liked wearing a hat that French painters do because he really believed he was an artist, no different from a French painter or sculptor. He believed manga was a true Japanese art. I wear a (Doraemon) hat too. It looks funny, but it is out of super respect,” he says.

With his work, Murakami is also showing the influence manga has had on him. “I am making a bridge between manga and contemporary art. That is my purpose.”

The 2017 painting on show at NMS is called Wouldn’t It Be Nice If We Could Do Such A Thing. It is very much a homage to Fujio – the manga legend is painted into the artwork.

Murakami says: “While I was pondering over what was the most important thing in the Doraemon series, I realised that maybe Fujiko F. Fujio himself held the key. When I inserted him into the picture, it was as if the whole thing suddenly came alive.”

3. Sebastian Masuda – Final Weapon (2017)

Japanese artist Sebastian Masuda with his artwork Final Weapon (2017) at The Doraemon Exhibition Singapore 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In Japan, artist Sebastian Masuda is considered one of the pioneers of kawaii culture (culture of cuteness). On what kawaii means to him, he says: “Kawaii is about being your own true self.”

For this exhibition, Masuda has created a 2.6m pink faux fur Doraemon embellished with curios like toy ponies, rubber duckies and other identifiable sparkly things that he has collected over the years on his travels.

It was inspired by the anime movie called Doraemon: Nobita’s Dorabian Nights. In the movie, there was an image of a little doll that was left in the sand in the desert. “In my work, Doraemon is sitting in the sand in a desert. The sand represents the terror of the real world – war, terrorism, hate crimes – and all the sad news. I believe all this cannot be solved by violence, but only by happiness. I believe that happiness can bring real peace to the world – that’s why I made this Doraemon.”

4. Jahan Loh – Intergalactic Voyagers (2022)

Singapore artist Jahan Loh with specially commissioned artworks Intergalactic Voyagers (2022, left) and Teleportation Art: Series 1 & 2 (2022, background). ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Looking at the original drawings of Doraemon manga at NMS, artist Jahan Loh actually recognised some from his childhood. “I am a pop-culture junkie, and I grew up on a diet of manga and comics. Doraemon was one of my favourite childhood characters because he could pull anything out of his pouch. People used to say I even looked like Nobita (Doraemon’s friend).”

Loh is known for his street-art style and pop-culture references in his work. His alter ego is a spaceman dubbed Rize, a recurring figure in the artist’s work. For this exhibition, Loh created a fictional narrative where Rize and Doraemon are friends who travel in time. For his sculpture, the artist has even given Doraemon three eyes – one each for the past, present and future.

5. Toraya Confectionery

Grab a piece of dorayaki for .90. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Doraemon culture and traditional Japanese confectionery come together in the form of dorayaki made specially for the Singapore exhibition by the famous wagashi (traditional Japanese confections) maker Toraya Confectionery.

Toraya has a history of close to 500 years in Japan and was the confectionery appointed to the Imperial Court. Today, it is run by a 17th-generation family member. On offer at NMS will be Singapore-exclusive dorayaki sets inspired by Doraemon’s favourite snack as well as other wagashi imported from Japan.

Grab a piece of dorayaki for $6.90. Oishii.

Book It/The Doraemon Exhibition Singapore 2022

What: Copyrighted by Fujiko-Pro, the show features a themed confectionery and Doraemon-inspired artworks, among other things.

Where: National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

When: Until Feb 5, 2023, 10am to 7pm daily

Admission: Tickets priced at $30 are available from www.doraemon-exhibit.sg/tickets. Admission to the cafe, merchandise shop and Doraemon-inspired artworks by two Singapore artists is free.

Info: bit.ly/TheDoraemonExhibitionSG2022.

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