Tokyo “de-light” part 1 Lara Baladi (Egyptian-Lebanese artist/photographer)


Photo of "Cosplay(costume play),Yoyogi park,Harajuku"

Cosplay(costume play),Yoyogi park,Harajuku.

I walk in the city as a daily ritual, moving forward in a self-contained world in which play is the objective as well as the means to reach it. I throw myself into the depths of the earth, going down escalators,through corridors,passing a multitude of faces until reach the platform. “Mamonaku,itchi ban sen-ni...”

(Train is approaching on platform one),announces the polite voice in the wagons,I scan the crowd and my eyes settle on one or two people.I enjoy watching the banal daily life gestures.Men and women read manga comics-manga for men,100yen only,manga for girls between sixteen and twenty-five,yaoye,love stories between 2 men,etc.From age five to ninety-five,the Japanese population indulges in these most visually compelling stories.

Young school children are the loudest,never afraid to laugh or scream.Girls empty their bags on their knees-a mirror,an eyelash squeezer,make up delicately and in a concentrated manner,they apply the powder,curl their eyelashes,add lipstick and brush their hair.My fascination for legs is growing in the subway.Intimidated or intimidating,I cannot help but stare at them.They seem to say more about a person than I can read in a face.


Photo of "A comlex sense of strongly rooted tradition transpires through the modern facade of the mega pole.

A comlex sense of strongly rooted tradition transpires through the modern facade of the mega pole.
The “thumb”generation, Hachiko spuare, Shibuya.

27 million people in Tokyo(including its suburbs)and yet no one ever disturbs anyone else,or involves themselves needlessly in the affairs of others. No one steps on anybody’s feet. Space is limited, yet ultimately respected. The feeling of freedom within a group is something I have not experienced in any other city. Arrows going down, arrows going up, the subway staircases are marked to make life easier for everybody. Everyone follows the rules. It simply works. "Mamonaku, Shinjukudes..."(soon you will reach Shinjuku station),That voice again.
The crowd moves fast, up and down the escalators,through the arcades onto the street. Outside this largest and at first most confusing subway station of Tokyo, from all sides, large video screens try to catch pedestrians’ eyes. The images consist of colorful animation and advertisements, incessantly repeating themselves, like a song's chorus. Men, women of all ages,from all backgrounds, carry on seemingly anonymous lives in all directions. Mobile phones in their hands, they are bombarded by speakers screaming outside sushi bar, or hostesses advertising for a new shop, just opened: "Elashaimase," "elashaimase," (welcome, welcome).

It is cold and wet. Shinjuku's rows of neon signs on the side of the tall, thin buildings appear like a modern impressionist tableau through the raindrops.


Cover of Weekly manga magazines

Weekly manga magazines

I am invisible. Sometimes I have flashes of Cairo. The narrow alleys are punctuated by pipelines covered in moisture and dust mixed, loosely hanging electrical wires, green or orange lights and whispers emerging from half closed windows. I am in Saida Zeinab. Behind the modern towers, slick glass architectural monsters, the organic city is alive 24 hours a day. Glowing mystery. A complex sense of strongly rooted tradition transpires through the modern facade of the megapole. Momoko was launched on the 1st of March, two days before the celebrated girl's day. Momoko is a new Japanese fashion doll, a rather beautiful and sophisticated version of the world-famous Barbie, however, without the iconic blonde's vulgarity and eagerness to remain single. It is a challenge to feel feminine for gaizin(foreigner) woman in Tokyo. Walking in the streets is like floating in sensuality. Japanese project themselves in public in a theatrical manner. The petite-ness of women’s or men’s bodies, the precisely drawn features of the faces, pale skins and elongated eyes, politeness and timidity mixed with strong deep voices create a seductive atmosphere. The performed gestures leave us, aliens, aware of our excessive extroverted tendencies.

-Lara Baladi is an Egyptian-Lebanese artist/photographer.
-Her work was exhibited in the Middle East, New York, Europe, Japan, etc. and is part of contemporary art collections such as the Fondation Cartier in Paris and the Museet For Fotokunst in Copenhagen.
-Her work is part of the exhibition Afrika Remix , which started in Dusseldorf in July 2004 at the Kunst Palast Museum and will tour the Hayward Gallery in London and Beaubourg in Paris in 2005, and the Mori Museum in Tokyo in 2006.
-She will have her first solo show at the Bildmuseet in Sweden in October 2004.
-Lara Baladi was granted a fellowship from the Japan Foundation for the year 2003. She is a member of the Beirut-based Fondation Arabe pour l'image. She lives and works in Cairo.

(This article appeared in "WAVES-Culture from Japan" (Autumn 2004) issued by Japan Foundation Cairo Offfice.