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Reading Images: Rapping Up Murakami

by Sheila Majumdar

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The challenge of writing a Coyote description is captured by the idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Translating an image into words requires parsing through visual information, determining the salient details, and relaying them in a logical order. Yet the approach to an image is different every time: Do you start with the foreground? The largest figure? The formal qualities or the narrative? How do you even begin to describe an image like the one above?


Installation view, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, MCA Chicago, Jun 6–Sep 24, 2017. Work shown: Takashi Murakami, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg: Kraken Cloaked in Death Presiding Over All Currents (detail), 2017. Acrylic, gold leaf, and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel; 45 panels, overall: 256 x 1,378 in. (650 x 3,500 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin. © 2017 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Nathan Keay

This work is from a series Takashi Murakami created specifically for his exhibition The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. The painting is monumental, its subject matter sprawling. More difficult, however, is the layered and repetitive presentation of imagery. There is enough detail to keep one's eye occupied for hours, and no obvious hierarchy of information.

When Kraken Cloaked in Death Presiding Over All Currents(2017) was uploaded to the Coyote website, we decided to try a new approach to the long description—something that would convey the work's content while embodying the energy and internal rhythm of the work. We invited Neema, a young Chicago rapper to vocalize a written description of the work detailed on this page. His rendition represents a promising direction for a growing body of visual descriptions.