By Toru Miyazaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterGIFU — Visit an exhibition, and you’ll often find museum staff quietly seated by the wall keeping an eye on things. What could they be thinking? A four-panel comic strip created by Yuri Nishimura offers a glimpse into the inner world of the staff who observe you observing the exhibits.
Nishimura works on the manga in between monitoring exhibits and working the front desk at the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, in the city of Gifu. Titled “Museum no Onna” (Woman of the Museum), her work describes the behind-the-scenes world of the prefectural-run facility. Since the manga was first posted on social media nearly a year ago, the strips have attracted a large number of followers — many of whom say the manga inspires them to visit museums — as well as the interest of a major publishing house that plans to release them in book form this autumn.
After the manga reached its 50th installment in May, Nishimura began releasing her works on a dedicated manga posting site. The 31-year-old now uploads 10 new installments every two weeks under the pseudonym Mitsuko Usae, with these scheduled to be compiled for the book.
“I’m surprised by the power of social media to spread information,” Nishimura said. “While public museums are seen as rather stiff, I guess people find my manga funny because it’s got a warm and fuzzy, genial feel.”
Still, Nishimura says social media is not her thing and continues to use an old-type cell phone, asking colleagues to upload her strips to the internet.
In “Museum no Onna,” the lead character is a museum worker depicted in the form of an anthropomorphic cat, who quietly sits and monitors the artwork, ready to help visitors upon request.
Nishimura takes as her theme casual workplace topics, such as how staff like her dress while at work, what they pay attention to, how they fight sleepiness as well as how abstract art can be appreciated. She also discusses how museum monitors differ from curators and reveals their various lesser-known duties, such as catching and reporting every insect they find and lending pencils to visitors who want to take notes.
The job of keeping an eye on visitors is “by no means boring,” Nishimura said.
“I try not to move, but I always listen to visitors’ voices and pay attention to them at all times to ensure no one eats or drinks, takes pictures or touches the exhibits,” she added.
A Nagoya native, Nishimura has loved drawing since childhood. After graduating from Kanazawa College of Art, she began working at the Gifu museum, which she had been fond of since her high school days. Her favorite artist is French painter Odilon Redon.
Nishimura first felt inspired to begin “Museum no Onna” in spring last year, when she contributed information on her museum to a local magazine.
Nishimura is regarded as a serious person at work. When asked about her wishes for the future, she answered like an honor-roll student: “I’ll try to keep my manga from becoming too complicated. I hope it will open the way for as many people as possible to come to our museum.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuri Nishimura shows off “Museum no Onna,” her four-panel manga series, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Gifu.
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu