Nobuyoshi Araki is a Japanese photographer whose immense body of work I couldn’t even begin to do justice to here. Most of his work is erotic, verging on pornographic, although I find it provocative in a thoughtful – even tasteful – manner. Like others before him, Araki drew parallels between flowers and female genitalia. But his photographs aren’t just sexually charged: Araki had a deep love for both his wife, Yōko, and his cat, Chiro. He photographed both during their full lives, doing everything from eating to undressing to using the restroom, as well as during their decline. Yōko suffered a premature death in 1990, and Chiro passed in 2010.
During their time together, the Araki’s balcony was a place lush with flowers and life, where many photographs were shot. Even after his wife’s death, Chiro continued to brighten a space that would otherwise seem desolate and full of sadness. “Because Chiro was there with me, the veranda became my personal paradise,” Araki wrote. She could turn a space that had “turned to ruin [into] something resembling an Eden.”
Flower Paradise is an exhibition of photographs reflecting on Araki’s own personal paradise after the loss of both his loved ones. The arrangements of flowers themselves represent the vitality and inspiration he once found there, while the plastic dinosaurs are stand-ins for Araki himself. It’s my belief that the lizards represent those that Chiro used to catch out on that selfsame balcony, while the baby doll represents his wife. Using his craft, Araki is able to bring he and his deceased family members together again in a place that they all loved and shared, with flowers representing at once the perseverance, vibrance and fragility of life.
For anyone who has ever loved a cat, like I have, or who has ever loved another human, or who appreciates art or, heck, who feels any emotion at all, I recommend doing further reading on this topic. If you’re a cat-lover, read this reflection on Araki and Chiro’s life together. For many more photographs and a retrospective on his perseverance in the face of death, read Once Was Paradise.
Photos © Nobuyoshi Araki