What springs to mind when you think of the word cute?
Doe eyed, docile, fluffy and small? Or perhaps you think of something a little more sinister and sneaky beneath an innocent appearance? Well, the newest exhibition, 'Cute', at London's Somerset House explores just that; our connection with all things encompassed by cuteness. Making us reconsider how we interpret it, in our minds and of course in our hearts - which is where I reckon it hits the hardest.
A rainy January evening, I got off the London underground train - which had the usual stuffy whiff of sweat, frazzles and farts - to head towards Somerset House. Brilliantly illuminated in neon pink and with a much-larger-than-life Hello Kitty statue outside, it felt like this welcome had been created especially for me. As soon as I arrived - anticipatory grin on my face - I was already saying 'awwwww' before I'd even reached the ticket desk.
I love cute stuff. In my 20's I spent a lot of time in America and collected kitsch Barbie memorabilia. My favourite colour is pink. I'm obsessed with cats, and I've been a fan of Hello kitty since forever. It's pretty safe to say that I'm a loyal devotee to cute. Cuteness is a slap of saccharine, a warm and fuzzy contrast to an often dull and dark reality. Cute is comforting, calming and makes my heart rise to the surface. It also awakens our desire to nurture and care for. Cute is escapism in its purest form.
At the start of this exhibition is a gallery of AI images (one of which is used for the main poster) depicting THE epitome of cute. Cats dressed in costumes, anthropomorphism at its finest. As I eagerly began the exhibition (just get me to the Hello Kitty rooooom already!) we're shown the origins of our fascination with cute, with much emphasis on cats. This made me happy, cats are basically the leaders of the pack when it comes to cute. The show then takes us through the history of Japanese kawaii (translates as 'loveable'), the rise of Anime, aswell as long established cuties like the Kewpie doll. There's a heavy leaning towards Japan, unsurprising seeing as the Japanese are the leading connoisseurs of cute. And, this exhibition is sponsored by Sanrio.
I reached the bit I was most excited to see. Oh hello, Hello Kitty heaven! My face and heart lit up in red as I beamed and 'awwwwed' like a young girl meeting Santa. A temple to this iconic character has everything you'd want, including a sequin walled, glitter balled, disco room, and an overdose of plushies crowding the walls.
The upstairs level of 'Cute' takes us through the various incarnations of cuteness. From the deceptively scary through to a safe soft nostalgia, all via music, fashion, toys, and games. I adored Hannah Diamond's 'Welcome to my perfect Dream' room. A fully immersive space, low lit in pink with giant beanbags and dreamscape views out the window, all inspired by the idea of a girls sleep-over. This was the second time that day that I felt like I had landed in some kind of heaven.
A short film by American artist Maggie Lee made me fall head over heels in love. Blurred rainy footage of a night-time car ride through NYC. Seen through Lee's heart shaped glasses. Every light on the highway and skyline bursting into an iridescent heart. Oh how I wish I could see life through those glasses every day.
Coming out of Somerset House into a cold dark London, I felt lighter and warmed by what I'd just visited. I think Hello Kitty is the biggest pull for this exhibition as she's so familiar and worshipped, but as a whole, this show is one brilliant curation of cute. With an £18 entry, it's quite a steep ticket price. You could take yourself to Hamley's toy shop for an hour and feel a similar sense of glee, however, the best bits of 'Cute' were worth it to me. It gave me a much needed hit of 'muga muchuu', (Japanese for loosing yourself in a dream) and that, is always a good way to spend your time.
Cute is at Somerset House, London, until 14th April 2024