Black robe, white mistArt of the Japanese Buddhist nun Rengetsu
8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008

Introduction | Lotus Moon | Ceramics and sake | Collaboration | Art of tea | Poetry and Buddhism | Publication | Events


Black robe white mist

Rengetsu’s life and work, including her Buddhist faith, poetry, ceramics and collaborations, are explored in detail in the National Gallery of Australia’s Black robe white mist exhibition catalogue. Black robe white mist also places her art in the context of the tea and sake culture of the time. This publication is the first English language publication to focus solely on the art of Rengetsu.

Produced with the generous support of the Australia-Japan Foundation and the Japan Foundation, the catalogue includes essays by some of the world’s foremost scholars of Rengetsu’s work, Japanese art and Buddhism – Patricia J. Graham, John Stevens, Meher McArthur, Sayumi Takahashi and Sandra Sheckter. Melanie Eastburn provides an insight into Rengetsu’s tragic life, and Chiaki Ajioka provides a short essay on the issues associated with translating Japanese poetry.

All the works of art featured in the exhibition are illustrated. The Japanese transcriptions of the poem on each art object, as well as English translations, are provided. Many of the art objects, and some of the English translations of Rengetsu’s poetry, have never before been published.

Black robe white mist is available at the National Gallery of Australia's gift shop and can be ordered by contacting the shop at


Publication contributors

Melanie Eastburn
Melanie Eastburn is Curator of Asian Art at the National Gallery of Australia. In 2003–2004 she worked at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, through Australian Volunteers International. Prior to that she was Curator of Asian Decorative Arts and Design at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, where she was the curator of the Japanese street fashion exhibition FRUiTS: Tokyo street style – photographs by Shoichi Aoki (2002). She has also worked at Sherman Galleries, Sydney. Eastburn has written and lectured on range of Asian art topics. Her recent book, Papua New Guinea Prints (2006) was based on research as the inaugural recipient of the National Gallery of Australia’s Gordon Darling Fellowship for the study of Australasian Prints.

John Stevens
John Stevens is a professor of Buddhist Studies at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan, where he has lived since 1973. He is also a Buddhist priest in the Japanese Zen tradition and an internationally acclaimed Aikido practitioner.  Stevens is the author of over 30 books including Lotus Moon: The poetry of Rengetsu (2005), Aikido: the Way of Harmony (1985), Sacred Calligraphy of the East (1981) and Zenga: Brushstrokes of Enlightenment (1990). He has translated the poetry of numerous Japanese poets including Ōtagaki Rengetsu. In 2006 John Stevens curated the exhibition Zen Mind, Zen Brush: Japanese ink painting from the Gitter-Yelen Collection for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

Patricia J Graham
Patricia J. Graham holds MA and PhD degrees in Asian and Japanese art history from The University of Kansas. She has lectured widely on Japanese culture and art, and taught Japanese studies, art history, and museum studies at Cornell University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and The University of Kansas. She has also worked as a curator of Asian art at the Saint Louis Art Museum and as a consultant for Japanese art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. Her numerous articles on Japanese art appear in exhibition and museum catalogues, encyclopaedias and journals. Her major publication Tea of the Sages: the Art of Sencha (1998) is a seminal work in the area. Patricia Graham’s most recent book is Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600-2005.

Meher McArthur
Meher McArthur studied Japanese at Cambridge University and undertook an MA in Japanese art at the London School of Oriental Studies (SOAS). She completed the SOAS/Sotheby's Diploma in Asian Art, and taught Japanese and Korean art history in the program. McArthur joined the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena in 1998 as Curator of East Asian art. In that position, she curated permanent displays and exhibitions including Gods and Goblins: The folk paintings of Otsu (1999) and Kampai! The arts of Japanese sake (2004). Now an independent curator, McArthur is the author of Reading Buddhist Art: An illustrated guide to Buddhist signs and symbols (2002) and The Arts of Asia: Materials, techniques, styles (2005). The art of Rengetsu is one of Meher McArthur’s research and curatorial interests.

Sandra Scheckter
Sandra Sheckter is a freelance writer and curator based in Basel, Switzerland. She completed her PhD at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, in 2006. Her thesis studied the appeal of things Japanese in England and France during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She has lectured at the University of East Anglia, at Christie’s International Art Studies (London), and for the School of Oriental and African Studies/Sotheby's Asian arts courses.  Sheckter was previously a curator at the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art in California, has coordinated numerous exhibitions with an emphasis on Japan, and has written for a range of Japanese art-related publications. Sandra Sheckler has a particular interest in Rengetsu and her ceramics.

Sayumi Takahashi
Sayumi Takahashi studied philosophy and creative writing at Princeton University and earned an MA and PhD in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania. Her doctoral dissertation included a study of the life and work of Ōtagaki Rengetsu. Takahashi is currently teaching Japanese language and culture at the University of the South (Sewanee) in Tennessee where she serves as Chair of the Japanese Program. Sayumi Takahashi is currently researching and preparing a book on the work of Rengetsu.

Chiaki Ajioka
Chiaki Ajioka graduated from Musashino Art University, Tokyo. She obtained her MA in fine arts from the University of Melbourne in 1985 and worked at SBS television as the senior Japanese subtitler from 1986 until 1996. Ajioka gained her PhD in art history at the Australian National University in 1996. She was curator of Japanese art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1996 until 2003. Ajioka has lectured in Japanese art at the University of Sydney while continuing her research on modern Japanese prints and crafts.