Describing itself as a “free destination for the incurably curious”, London’s Wellcome Collection hosts some of the capital’s most fascinating and unique exhibitions. The most recent of these is Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, which opened back in March to critical acclaim and will finally wrap up on June 30th.
Outsider Art refers to the work of those who aren’t part of the established art world – marginalised, self-taught and often institutionalised artists who are astonishingly creative regardless. The Wellcome Collection’s exhibition showcases more than 300 pieces from 46 artists, all of whom are residents or day attendees at Japan’s social welfare institutions.
That said, the gallery hopes to shake the patronising assumption that it’s driven by voyeurism and an urge to peer into disordered minds; instead, these artists are celebrated for their dazzling contributions to contemporary creative practice.
The Japanese word Souzou isn’t easily translated into English. “Written one way, it means creation, and in another it means imagination,” say curators.
Incorporating paintings, drawings, sculptures, textiles and ceramics, there are some truly incredible exhibits that are a far cry from the commercially-oriented mainstream. These include a diary painstakingly rendered in hieroglyphics, maps of imaginary cities, vintage film posters recreated from memory and intricate clay sculptures of dragons and sea monsters.
The pieces are loosely arranged according to categories that reflect the artists’ creative concerns, including language, culture, relationships and possibility.
For those feeling a little lost among this unusually vivid and beautiful showcase, the Wellcome Collection runs a weekly guided tour every Saturday – giving visitors an opportunity to hear the extraordinary stories behind some of the artworks.
Like the exhibition itself, these tours are free and there’s no need to book. Places are limited, though, so would-be participants are advised to arrive a little before the starting time of 11:30am.
The Wellcome Collection is located opposite Euston Station, so it should prove easy to find for those staying in central London hotels this month.