Open Lecture | Hannah Sigur

A National Identity for International Display: Japan’s Hôôden at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893

Hannah Sigur | Associate Researcher at IHA/NOVA FCSH


21 fevereiro, 17h
Sala Multiusos 2, Edifício I&D (piso 4)/NOVA FCSH
Entrada livre


At the 1893 Chicago Exposition, Japan’s national pavilion—the Hôôden—along with the White City that surrounded it, apotheosized the values and aspirations of its day. What message does a building, of more than a century past and decades ago destroyed, have for us in 2019? It is as an object lesson in the malleability of fact in the service of dogma, of the visual to sway belief, and the law of unintended consequences: a cautionary reminder for our uncertain times.
Arguably the most remarked upon national pavilion at the most ideologically articulate fair of the exposition movement, the Hôôden’s success was all the more striking as the symbol of a sovereign realm whose racial and spiritual profile stood at odds with 19th century conventional wisdoms about the modern nation state. Indeed, while the thousands who viewed its graceful buildings and gorgeous interiors readily accepted it as “real Japan,” in reality its creators had constructed a fiction by which to manipulate opinion. Yet in doing so they did not defy the dogma of the fairs, but embraced it. In its elaborate, brilliantly executed and quixotically ambitious portrayal of Japanese identity the Hôôden made an exotic cloak, giving order and elegance to the jumbled message of political, social, cultural and economic arrival offered up by the fairs as a whole.


Hannah Sigur
2016, #4173, Hannah Sigur, Academic Year Adjunct Instructor, Art and Art History Department, faculty, female,

Portrait of Hannah Sigur, 2016. (Photo credit: Joanne H. Lee/Santa Clara University)

From 2002-2017 Hannah Lubman Sigur taught at universities in the San Francisco Bay Area in the USA. From 1978 – 1982, and 1994-1995, she resided in East and Southeast Asia. Now a resident of Lisbon, she is affiliated with the Departamento da História de Arte, Universidade Nova de Lisboa.
Her initial concentration on the traditional arts of Japan and East Asia evolved into a profound interest in the material culture of internationalism and cross-cultural exchange principally of Meiji Japan with the United States and Europe. Her book, The Influence of Japanese Art on Design (Gibbs Smith, 2008) examines Japonisme, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, and early Contemporary design from an American/Japanese perspective. Since 2013 she has focused on the relationship between architecture and national identity conceived for the global eye at international expositions from 1867 – 1915. For a general readership, her essay on the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair’s iconic White City appears in What Happened? An Encyclopedia of Events that Changed America Forever, Vol. III (ABC-Cleo, 2010).  For specialists, her “Neoclassicism in Translation: Japan’s Hôôden at the World’s Columbian International Exposition, 1893” appears in Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs: Identity, Diversity and Exchange 1855 – 1914 (Routledge 2017).