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EMP museum presents Hello Kitty exhibit

Hello Kitty is brought to life downtown

Christine McManigal, Staff Reporter
Originally published January 18, 2016

Christine McManigal

One of the many contemporary art pieces highlighted at the Experience Music Project’s (EMP) Hello Kitty exhibit where the EMP deviates from focusing on the traditional or vintage art of Hello Kitty.

When walking in, the first few details to notice are the wallpaper, cramped space and artifact. The walls are a blood red embossed with miniature Hello Kitty heads, so condensed that just the sight of the print is nearly overwhelming. Coupled with the print is the tight corridor audiences walk through. In the space, red hues and dim lighting create the sensation of entering into the heart of Hello Kitty.

In the middle of the corridor a glass case holding one of the first vinyl coin purses made by Sanrio, a Japanese company that designs, licenses and produces products focusing on kawaii themes, 1975. The entrance artifact for the exhibit is confusing at first, but a full tour unites the entrance and exit, satisfying audiences.

While the capacity and color scheme of the exhibit’s entrance are staggering, the rest is vastly different. When leaving the corridor, the exhibit opens up to a large area full of loud J-pop music, white walls and colorful graphics.

The graphics are composed of timelines, quotes and examples of how Hello Kitty was integrated into American society. When reading the captions it becomes clear what the exhibit’s message is: Hello Kitty isn’t a cat, she’s a real person.

As you walk deeper into the exhibit, the personification of Hello Kitty is evident. You learn that Hello Kitty’s real name is Kitty White. You learn about her parents, siblings, pets, height and favorite food. The exhibit is essentially a tribute to the life of Hello Kitty, since her birth in 1974.

Despite her thorough backstory, Hello Kitty was not a real person. Shintaro Tsuji, founder of Sanrio, discovered that sandals with “cute” designs were quite popular. To accompany his new sandal designs, he hired cartoonists to draw a figure wearing the merchandise. Advertisements depicting Hello Kitty gained extreme popularity.

Alongside the graphics are the artifacts and art. Delicately placed in universal glass cases are the original merchandise released in the 20th century. However these are sparsely placed and are not the focus of the exhibit. Instead, the exhibit draws its audience to the contemporary art of Hello Kitty, all made in 2014.

The art consists of some traditional asian art, with evident Hello Kitty themes such as linen Kimonos embroidered with Hello Kitty symbols and silk thread paintings depicting Hello Kitty in various mundane activities.

However, the majority of the art is much more contemporary and untraditional. Alongside one of the exhibit’s walls are mannequins dressed in designer clothing. Large lights directed towards the clothes highlight their presence, drawing audiences in. While the clothing does not properly represent the spirit of Hello Kitty, it does represent the culture of Japan and its famous street style fashion designs such as Lolita, Decora and Kogal.

Despite the exhibit heavily personifying Hello Kitty and displaying art that is far from traditional, it does satisfy the average Sanrio lover and demonstrates how far Hello Kitty has grown, from being an advertisement for sandals to becoming a world famous icon.

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EMP museum presents Hello Kitty exhibit