Dada Issue #1: An ode to Araki

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Dedicated to the creative legacy of Nobuyoshi Araki, the first issue of dada magazine champions mostly-female creatives and their nuanced explorations of sexuality

One of the most prolific figures of Japanese photography, Nobuyoshi Araki, is just as famous as he is infamous for the controversial nature of both his personality and art. In 2018, the photographer, known for exploring sex, death, and femininity, was accused of exploiting models by long-time muse Kaori. Araki denied the accusation, and though it may have tainted his reputation, it has not stopped his work from being exhibited and celebrated worldwide.

Still, given the controversy surrounding his life and work, at first glance, Araki seems an odd choice for a progressive magazine to dedicate their entire first issue to. “We wanted something challenging,” says editor-in-chief Valeria Della Valle, addressing how many people did not agree with the theme. “But dada is about visual subcultures, and words,” she says. “I do not want the magazine to just be a bunch of nice images. Those images, they have a message behind them, and they have to invite reflection.”

Spread from dada Issue one.
Spread from dada Issue one.

The publication is large in size — it feels more like a photobook than a magazine — with full-bleed photographs that give room for an immersive experience of both the art and journalism. Following a section of long-form interviews is a wealth of photo spreads. Each is named after one of Araki’s seminal photobooks — some are newly commissioned fashion editorials, styled by founder and creative director Xander Ang, while others are photo series that relate to the themes of sexuality and taboo, such as Tiane Doan na Champassak’s abstract series of figurative photography.

Spread from dada Issue one. Photography by Begum Yetis, styling by Valeria Delle Valle.

“The message is that it’s not about sex being a bad thing, it’s about using sex in the right way. Sexuality and desire are healthy and no woman or man should be ashamed of them”

Spread from dada Issue one. Artwork by Tiane Doan Na Champassak.

The idea behind dada is to dedicate each issue to an artist or creative that they feel has shaped our modern sensibilities. Despite the controversy, it is safe to say that Araki has been hugely influential on contemporary practitioners who explore themes of sexuality, erotica and taboo.

What is most interesting about dada is that it navigates this influence through the work of mostly female contemporary creatives, including photographers Momo Okabe, Anna Sampson, and Luo Yang, erotic filmmaker Romy Alizée, shibari teacher and installation artist Gestalta, and erotic jewellery designer Betony Vernon.

Spread from dada Issue one. Photography by Momo Okabe.

“It turned out that this issue became very feminine,” Della Valle reflects. “For me, this was kind of a surprise, and something that I wanted to reflect on.” It was not that Della Valle was looking for female artists specifically, but she found that fewer male artists exploring sexuality in the same way. “The message is that it’s not about sex being a bad thing, it’s about using sex in the right way. Sexuality and desire are healthy and no woman or man should be ashamed of them.”

Cover of dada Issue one, artwork by Tiane Doan Na Champassak.
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.