Hello Kitty lovers, grab a writing implement from your Hello Kitty pencil case, and mark your calendars. The first large-scale exhibition of objects from the Sanrio archives and original art inspired by the iconic character opens Oct. 11 at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. The show, pegged to the 40th anniversary of the brand, will run through April 26, 2015.
The art on display ranges from a sculpture of the character covered in desserts, illustrating her reputation for being sweet, to “Kittypatra,” a sculpture of Hello Kitty as Cleopatra that’s reminiscent of cats’ religious significance in ancient Egypt (but, remember, she’s a girl, not a cat). Jamie Rivadeneira, one of the exhibit’s curators and owner of Japan LA, a boutique that sells Japanese pop culture merchandise, argues there are endless ways for artists to depict Hello Kitty because “she’s a blank canvas. She doesn’t have a mouth, so she can be whatever you want her to be.”
Pop culture fans will recognize Katy Perry’s Hello Kitty-inspired corset, Lady Gaga’s dress made out of Hello Kitty plush dolls and a skirt decorated with Hello Kitty lunch boxes featured on America’s Next Top Model. Other unusual objects on display include Hello Kitty motor oil, Hello Kitty toilet paper and the infamous Hello Kitty body “massager,” which went viral on the Internet because many people thought Sanrio had released a vibrator.
Christine Yano, an anthropologist and one of the exhibit’s curators, describes the massager controversy and other unexpected appropriations of the cutesy character on display as the kind of “OMG moments” that have made the brand last for 40 years: “It became a sensation. Even if there might be some controversy, that’s more people paying attention and maybe more people buying the product.”