Japanese Bondage (Shibari) Fine Art - Garth Knight. rope tree

Note: Contains nudity.

Beginning in thirteenth-century Japan, rope tying (hojojutsu) was used as means of restraining, transporting, and punishing criminals. It evolved into an erotic activity and art form called “kinbaku” during the Edo Period, infusing the centuries-old discipline method with BDSM (the infamous photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is known for his extensive documentation of this style of rope bondage). More recently, kinbaku has moved internationally, and was coined “shibari” in the 1990s as it moved into the West.

“Shibari” translates to “decoratively tie.” Drawing from Japanese tying methods, shibari artists use rope to design stunning geometric patterns that bind and accentuate the curves of each body. Whereas hojojutsu was a form of torture, kinbaku and shibari are about consensual art-making and experimentation; working together, the rigger and model engage in a simulation of extreme power dynamics to produce images and bodily experiences brimming with vulnerability, euphoria, tension, and sensuality.

Featured here are 10 amazing photographs composed by multidisciplinary artists around the world who use shibari in expressive ways.

Top: Garth Knight’s beautiful “Tree of Man” represents the interconnection amongst all living things.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Formento + Formento, Marica

This photo from “The Japan Diaries” beautifully expresses the sensitivities of power exchange and trust involved in shibari.

Formento + Formento

Formento + Formento is a creative duo comprised of husband and wife team BJ and Richeille. Their images are dark, cinematic, and sensually surreal. In a series titled “The Japan Diaries,” both artists drew on lifelong fascinations with Japan to capture the country’s vibrant and embedded cultural history. They included shibari in some of the images, which was performed by EvilTHelL, a young rope master. The light on the model’s face coupled with with the tatami mat floor gives the minimalist image a blend of tension, mystery, and eroticism. You can watch a video of Formento + Formento’s shibari shoot here.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Hajime Kinoko, red rope lying on ground

Kinoko’s works have a strong emotional aspect, using ropes as symbolic tethers to unseen experiences.

Hajime Kinoko

A bondage master, photographer, and contemporary performer, Nagoya-based Hajime Kinoko weaves spiritual narratives using his iconic red rope. Coiled on and around the models, the rope represents how human “instincts and inner memories” are universally connected, blossoming off the same figurative thread. While shibari is traditionally correlated with BDSM activities, for Kinoko, the art of binding cannot be reduced to a singular purpose; shibari is a creative, emotional field that allows for the exploration of the self, the bound subject, the environment, and the interrelations therein.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) Fine Art - Garth Knight, Blood Conciousness

Garth Knight’s “Blood Consciousness” shibari installation was designed to resemble a human heart.

Garth Knight

Garth Knight is a Sydney-based artist working in installation, photography, and sculpture. He draws upon the shibari art tradition to create mind-blowing arrangements of webbed trees made of ropes and weighted with rocks and human bodies. Aimed at showing the affinities between all matter and consciousness, Knight draws upon the powerful erotic energy of shibari and the vulnerability of the models to demonstrate a philosophical, emotional yielding to forces beyond ourselves.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Chris Shaghal, Spider Fly I

Predator/prey dynamics come into play in this stunning short film by Chris Shaghal.

Chris Shaghal (Rope Shadow)

Chris Shaghal (aka, Rope Shadow) is a Greek artist (fine-art photographer, shibari performer, and digital filmmaker) whose works focus around fetishism, S&M, and dark imagery. Featured here is a still from a short experimental film he made called “SPIDER/FLY,” wherein the shibari models are captured and strung up in a haunting and derelict room. Drawing on the sensations of helplessness and vulnerability, Shaghal’s fusion of shibari, movement, and film is poetic and almost ballet-like.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Hikari Kesho, Observing the Stillness of Brenta River

Sensuality, fantasy, and subtle gothic tones characterize the work of Hikari Kesho.

Hikari Kesho

Hikari Kesho (Alberto Lisi) began his successful artistic career as an Italian fashion photographer. He is passionate about meditation, martial arts, and Japanese culture, and pursued shibari as a means of visual storytelling. His imagery is a blend of classicism and subversion—a binary approach that manifests the tension and beauty arising from the combination of classical art education and the chaos of raw instinct. His remarkable photo “Observing the Stillness of Brenta River,” shown above, was selected as the poster image for the “Art of Contemporary Shibari” exhibit at the Fotofest 2012 Biennial, and his fetish work has been featured in several publications, including PHOTO, Fetish Photo Anthology, and Playboy.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Zee Maitri, dark bonadge

Along with Hikari Kesho, Zee Maitri’s work was featured in the “Art of Contemporary Shibari” exhibit at the Fotofest 2012 Biennial.

Zee Maitri

Trained in the art of binding in Tokyo, French artist Zee Maitri has been traveling the world, compiling hauntingly beautiful images of shibari. His photographs are often dark, with models suspended in eerie and almost otherworldly rooms. There is a sense of solitude, abandonment, or perhaps waiting, as if these mysterious scenes are occurring underground or in empty warehouses; something is always about to happen. The mystery that Maitri infuses in his images adds to their moody allure and deepens the sense of respect, admiration, and submission.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari), Marcus Guillard - Artemis

This photo, titled “Artemis,” is part of an incredible collaborative series.

Marcus Guillard, Monica Canilao, Kanso & Blue, and crew

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, becomes a passionate embodiment of her powers over life and death in this incredible shibari art piece by Marcus Guillard (photographer), Kanso & Blue (rope work), Monica Canilao (model, concept designer, costumes, and makeup), Jessy Brown (styling and set decorating), and Therin Brooks (styling and makeup). Pooling together their creative talents, these artists created a stunning series of mythology-inspired shibari portraits, which can be viewed on Canilao’s Flickr. Lace, elaborate headdresses, and natural artifacts beautifully complement the shibari work, creating a powerful, emotional, and erotic energy that arrives through the bodies of these surrendered female deities. A making-of video of the portrait “Born from Ruins” can be viewed here.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Aldo Chorozqui, Animals

Power and restraint takes a gruesome turn in the fascinating work of Aldo Chorozqui.

Aldo Chorozqui

In a series called “Animals,” Barcelona-based photographer Aldo Chorozqui combines shibari with disturbing slaughterhouse imagery. Chorozqui uses photography as a technique for discussing pertinent issues surrounding him; in this case, he has created a visual dialogue about the treatment of animals and their bodies by embodying them as human hostages. Women bound in cages with empty food bowls, spread out on plastic sheets, and strung up to bleed out reflects the cruelty of industrialized slaughter that is often hidden from public view. More of Chorozqui’s dark and inspiring shibari photography can be viewed on his Behance portfolio.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Li Zeng, Asprin

Li Zeng harnesses the power of the captive’s gaze in her shibari photography.

Li Zeng

The photography of Hangzhou- and Vancouver-based Li Zeng is moody and heavily pigmented, often in visceral shades of red. In addition to shooting fine-art portraiture and travel photography, she also works in shibari photography. Her series “Aspirin” features a woman bound in ropes, expressing a passive but unwavering strength reminiscent of Araki’s kinbaku subjects. Li Zeng also has a black-and-white shibari photoshoot called “Outsider” that is notable for its melancholic-yet-fierce representation of the feminine body.

Japanese Bondage (Shibari) - Weronika Bachleda, Suspended

Weronika Bachleda’s image shows the submission of the male body, which is often underrepresented in shibari photography.

Weronika Bachleda and crew

In collaboration with shibari tiers and models, Weronika Bachleda brings rope art into her cinematic and alternative fashion photography. Shown here is a series titled “Suspended,” featuring rope work by Gestalta. The series “Tangled” (rope work and modelling by Skinny Redhead) and “Body Art” (Skinny Readhead and FredRx) are also a must-see for shibari and photography enthusiasts. Together, they do a great job combining art forms and highlighting the athleticism of the models; their visible strength as they settle into and resist the ropes reveals how the experience of being suspended is both physically and mentally challenging—the reward being, of course, the trust, the art, and the transcendent experiences of those participating.

Photos © respective artists
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