Japanese hyper-realistic painter, Mitsunari Kana, has created a piece titled 制約 (Constraint), which aims to discuss how today’s late-stage capitalism has impacted women’s bodies. This refers to today's form of capitalism, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few and workers increasingly suffering from long working hours and inadequate wages.

Kana’s piece is simple but thought-provoking. It renders a woman’s hips, on which the outline of an easy to recognize mass produced lingerie is visible. These marks look like they cut deep, with reddish hues conveying that the lingerie must have been too small and that wearing it must have caused great discomfort.

制約 (Constraint) by Mitsunari Kana. Image courtesy of @mitsunari_kana/Instagram.

By doing so, the piece draws a connection between fast fashion and women’s body image issues. It reminds viewers how lingerie was manufactured under the guise that one size will fit all, blatantly ignoring the diversity of women’s body sizes for the convenience of mass production. These panties put women’s bodies into cookie cutters, ostracizing those who are not represented by the small to extra large chart while making women think that smaller sizes are desirable.

Kana’s painting raises awareness of this issue, reminding her viewers that fast fashion also affects women’s body image. This makes her piece relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Responsible Consumption and Production.

Detail of 制約 (Constraint) by Mitsunari Kana. Image courtesy of @mitsunari_kana/Instagram.

Detail of 制約 (Constraint) by Mitsunari Kana. Image courtesy of @mitsunari_kana/Instagram.

Kana’s hyper-realism focuses on enhancing the moment’s emotions. This is done through chiaroscuro, where a black background and strong contrasting colours are found on figures to enhance their 3-dimensional feel. With Kana herself acknowledging that she has spent long hours studying works by Italian masters, it’s not too far-fetched to say that her pieces echo the dramatic artworks of Italian master, Caravaggio, who also used chiaroscuro to create emotionally charged hyper-realistic figurative paintings.

制約 (Constraint) by Mitsunari Kana, exhibited in her solo show Semi-Fiction at Shimokitazawa Arts. Image courtesy of ArtRandom Japan.

Like Caravaggio’s pieces, which often portray the darker side of society, Kana’s 制約 (Constraint) highlights how size charts used in mass-produced clothes make women suffer from body dysmorphia. The National Health Service (NHS) defines body dysmorphia as the mental condition where a person spends an excessive amount of time obsessing over their perception of “flaws” in their appearance.

This is especially prevalent in Japan, as a survey carried out on nearly 600 women in Japan revealed that many feel pressure to meet Japan’s narrow definition of beauty. A standard which includes meeting a very low Body-Mass Index (BMI) count in order to be perceived as thin and skinny. The country’s women also reported that a narrow range of mass produced clothing sizes, which excluded larger or curvier women, is an issue that more than 80 percent of respondents are concerned with.

To further raise awareness of the issue, Mitsuri Kana is also currently painting another piece on the subject. Unlike 制約 (Constraint), this piece shows a woman’s shoulder instead of her hips, and yet, just like 制約 (Constraint), viewers can see the faint outline of clothing that was too tight on her skin. 

In the work in progress’ case, the faint imprints of what can only be their bra strap are visible on their shoulders. Should Kana finish the piece, viewers might just find themselves gazing at 制約 (Constraint)‘s counterpart, understanding how every part of a woman’s body, without exception, is scrutinized by the size charts of mass-produced goods.

Find out more about Mitsunari Kana’s 制約 (Constraint) and their other pieces by checking their Instagram on @mitsunari_kana.

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