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Sachiko, from the series My grandmothers



Miwa Yanagi


1967 -


The work of Miwa Yanagi has always comprised highly orchestrated and constructed images, such as her ‘Elevator girls’ series 1999–2002. Here eerie scenes of young Japanese women, composed, directed and dressed by the artist, present the uniformed and clone-like existence of such female roles in Japan. In ‘My grandmothers’ the artist has again arranged each scene and digitally manipulated the resulting image to realise the embodiment of an imaginary future self – as a maternal ancestor 50 years from now.

Unlike the depersonalised elevator girls, Yanagi’s grandmothers are distinct individuals with a powerful presence. They are distinguished by their independence, evident in the unique ideas, hopes and dreams for their future selves in old age. This is communicated through accompanying text panels that read as direct voices, emphasising their individuality. Based on interviews conducted with the women selected to embody themselves in the future as model grandmothers, the text is her imagined life 50 years from now. Yanagi thus provides an insight into the otherwise unspoken desires and hopes of her models, intimating and facilitating an otherwise dormant individualism and suggesting future hopes for ageing and wisdom in youth.

A sense of independence is a necessary virtue for women by Yanagi’s standards; required in order to become an extraordinary and wise grandmother, and needed by any young Japanese woman hoping to escape the debilitating conformity of female roles offered by contemporary Japanese society.1

1. See Mako Wakasa’s 2002 interview with Miwa Yanagi in which she discusses her thoughts on the conservatism in contemporary Japanese society: ‘Miwa Yanagi’, ‘Journal of Contemporary Art’, Accessed 27.09.2006

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007




Media category


Materials used

type C photograph + text




photograph: 86.7 x 120.0 cm image/sheet; text: 21.6 x 30.0 cm sheet :

a - photograph, 86.7 x 120 cm, image/sheet

b - text, 21.6 x 30 cm, sheet

Signature & date

Signed label verso photograph, black fibre-tipped pen "Yanagi Miwa". Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by Naomi Kaldor, Penelope Seidler, The Freedman Foundation, Peter and Thea Markus, Candice Bruce and Michael Whitworth, Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth, Stephen Ainsworth, Gary Langsford, Luca and Anita Belgiorno-Nettis, and the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2002


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Miwa Yanagi

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


George Alexander, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Tableaux - memento mori - screen culture', pg.313-335, Sydney, 2007, 312 (colour illus.), 319, 333 (colour illus.).

Ewen McDonald (Editor), 2002 Biennale of Sydney: (The World May Be) Fantastic, Sydney, 2002. no catalogue numbers

Jane Somerville, Look, 'The familiar made strange', Sydney, May 2007, 20.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Yokohama Triennale, Japan, 2001, 132.