Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at The Wellcome Collection in London brings together a multifarious selection of works created by over 46 artists in Japan. These artists are residents and attendees of social welfare institutions across the island of Honshu, and have been diagnosed with various developmental disorders or mental illnesses. Souzou is both humbling and enthralling in its sensitive approach towards art in its most unfettered form, created by marginalised individuals who often live on the periphery of society.

The word “souzou” has no linguistic equivalent in English, although in Japanese it refers to concepts of both creation and imagination. For these artists, the primary and dominant mode of expression is through the visual rather than the verbal or written. As such, there is an emotional intensity and delightful conceptual inventiveness to their works as they communicate their thoughts on culture and memory in deeply personal ways. From the grotesquely riveting pointillism of Marie Suzuki’s portraits, to Shota Katsube’s meticulously constructed army of action figures made from wire, to Norimitsu Kokubo’s astounding cartographies of teeming urban spaces, Souzou presents an endearing collective account of the peculiar world we live in through pure and fresh eyes. 

Particularly enlightening is the final room in the exhibition space, where short films on the creative process and routine of each artist are shown. These video works accentuate the unique personalities behind the pieces shown in the exhibition, and underline the inseparable relationship between artist and artwork.

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan runs from 28 March to 30 June at the Wellcome Collection.

Wellcome Collection183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

All images courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.