Individual Media Tours for the Exhibition “Feathered Ink”
[Open to the public] Aug. 27–Jan. 29, 2023”
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art
1050 Independence Ave. S.W.
Kit Brooks, The Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art
Sol Jung, The Shirley Z. Johnson Assistant Curator of Japanese Art

Across three galleries, “Feathered Ink” explores how Japanese artists have experimented over several centuries with different brush techniques in their depictions of birds. Drawing from the Freer Gallery of Art’s extensive collection of bird-and-flower paintings, the exhibition includes hanging scroll paintings, folding screens, ceramics, and printed books.
In Japan, paintings on the theme of birds and flowers began to appear during the Heian period (794–1185) as a way of referencing seasonal associations or auspicious homonyms or of replicating the natural world in remarkable detail. Depicting a variety of bird species in naturalistic or paradisiacal environments offers a tantalizing opportunity for an artist to showcase their skills through the use of virtuosic ink brushwork techniques to represent different feather types and the textures of plumage and foliage. Adding colors can provide further layers of symbolic meaning and decorative effect. Birds are also popular motifs found on early modern Japanese ceramics, rendered through inlaid slip designs, molding, and polychrome pigments. Some of the vessels in this exhibition even provide a glimpse into how Japanese potters emulated the painterly effects of ink on clay surfaces.

“While putting the exhibition together, Sol and I were drawn to the different ways that artists tried to capture the lightness and quick movements of their avian subjects, whether in a painting or with clay. Sometimes the artists were trying to render the birds as realistically as possible, but at other times, their vision was more abstract, or even captured how they imagined the birds’ personalities—playful, quizzical, or predatory. We hope that visitors to the exhibition will appreciate how different artists used their materials to create these different effects.”

– Kit Brooks, The Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art

Note to editors: Members of the media can contact Jennifer Mitchell at for more information, or to schedule a time to speak with the curator and tour the exhibition.