Somerset House Unveils ‘Cute,’ a Show That’s Sweet and Complex

MEET CUTE: What does it mean to be cute?

The latest show at London’s Somerset House, “Cute,” which runs from Thursday to April 14, aims to answer the question, and prove that the sugary adjective is actually complex and multilayered.

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The show’s curators describe “cute” as a way “to soften or disguise the unpalatable,” “pull on our heartstrings,” and as “an expression of identity and resistance against accepted norms.”

Held in partnership with Sanrio, the Japanese entertainment company, the show marks Hello Kitty’s 50th birthday, and while there is an array of branded merchandise on display, there is also original artwork and design.

Artworks include Aya Takano’s androgynous and ethereal “The Galaxy Inside”; a Slyvanian family diorama, and emerging artist Sian Fan’s interactive “Glimmer,” which fuses video game technology with virtual reality to allow viewers to be transformed into a magical character.

Fan’s process began following a conversation with the exhibition’s curator, Claire Catterall.

“We discussed my research into the commodification of Asiatic femininity within anime and video games, and my interest in the tense coexistence between the hyper-cute and hyper-objectified. Over time, this developed into the idea for my interactive artwork,” Fan said.

Drawing on her Chinese and British heritage, the multidisciplinary artist said she looked to “images of Asian identity and femininity within popular media” for inspiration.

“The artwork itself explores the classic anime character the ‘magical girl’ (such as Sailor Moon or Sakura), by digitally placing the audience into a magical transformation. It encourages the audience to perform cutesy choreography in order to trigger magical effects, and in doing so places them into the role of the vulnerable, objectified and ultra-cute ‘magical girl,’” she added.

Viewers will never think of “cute” in the same way again.

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