“I don’t wanna be cute”: The Tokyo Artist Killing Kawaii
Yulia Shur, a Belarus-born Tokyo-based artist, is killing kawaii with fake blood and fishnet.
Atop Tokyo skyscrapers, photographer Yulia Shur often finds herself sitting down in meetings with a bunch of middle-aged men. “In Japanese culture, there are so many strict rules on how women should behave,” explains the 25-year-old visual artist and director. “Clients have told me: ‘You’re a woman. You can’t be so loud. You can’t be so open to everyone.’ But no, I can. I’m an artist and I just wanna do my job.”
Born in Belarus, Yulia had a tougher climb into the global creative industry than most. While the other kids played computer games, she was learning Photoshop.
After studying economics at the University of Belarus, she traveled through Asia and realized her hobby of shooting could become a career. She lived in China for almost a year, then decided she wanted to live in Tokyo – but was only able to get a long-stay visa as a model.
Right city, wrong side of the camera. She ended up doing perky campaigns on Japanese TV for Hello Kitty and similar brands, clothed in long skirts and pearl earrings. Day to day, Yulia found herself perpetuating something that she hated – kawaii, Japan’s culture of cuteness.
Perhaps that is why her videos and portraits are so “colorful, weird and sometimes even a little bit grotesque,” explains Asako Tomotani, a producer with poweredby.tokyo*. Octopus tentacles and tiny doll hands take digs at kawaii. A model chalks up a line of glitter and joyously snorts. Jerky cameras and loud synth keep viewers in a dream-like state. “Her photography and videos are really immersive and something that you would not expect.”
Yulia eventually proved her talent and found a creative agency to represent her work, allowing her to stop modeling and get an artist visa.
She describes her imagery as dark, creepy or even ugly, "something Japanese people aren’t used to seeing." She’s still in front of the camera sometimes – except now running through the forest in a fox mask or in a bathtub crying up blood.
Her work has been featured in such magazines as NYLON and KALTBLUT, and she’s been hired for advertising work by such big brands as Christian Louboutin, Beats by Dre and Apple Music in just a quick couple of years.
"I cannot say that I’m a photographer," she says. "I think a photographer takes beautiful pictures of a person. I would say I create images as I already have a picture in my head and then I just put different characters into my images. I’m a visual artist and director."
See more of Yulia’s work on her Instagram.