Culture is a malleable thing, and every generation molds existing legends, religions, and philosophy into something new. Sometimes that’s serious or even scary. And sometimes it’s really funny.
Argentinian artist Marcela Maldonado has done the latter by — oh, let’s call it "repurposing" — the Maneki Neko, which translates as the "Beckoning Cat" but is also called the Lucky Cat or Money Cat, among other things. You’ve probably seen these kitties in businesses — they’re said to bring good fortune and many visitors. Maldonado takes this ancient symbol and uses it as a blank canvas that conveys visual messages from modern-day politics, music, film, and comics.
But first the legend. Maneki Neko is backed by multiple stories, all of them having to do with a cat who urges a human to change course or take notice, thereby saving the person from a violent end. One involves a cat in Japan beckoning a wealthy traveler into a temple during a thunderstorm — and seconds later the tree where the traveler had taken refuge is struck by lightning. The man becomes friends with the cat and the priest, and the temple prospers. You get the idea.
The Maneki Neko’s paw is raised and looks to us like a wave — or perhaps a gesture of solidarity. (“Word!” it seems to say.) But in Japanese culture (so we’re told) what looks like a wave means "Come over here!" The cat is often holding a coin, and it wears a collar and bib, all of which have significance.
And along comes Maldonado to have her way with it.
Among the more laughable Maneki Nekos is Gene Simmons of KISS, little red tongue and all. Another depicts Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses, while another wears a Metallica shirt — along with a toothy grimace.
A mostly white Maneki Neko has David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane red-and-blue lightning bolt across the face, but not Bowie’s shock of red hair.
There’s Spider-Man (Spider-Cat?) and Batman (Batcat?), as well as Hello Kitty (natch).
Darth Vader and a young Jedi from Star Wars make appearances, as does what looks like a Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
More serious offerings include a tribute to the late Argentine first lady Evita Peron as well as skeletally adorned Dia de los Muertos figures.
Maldonado brings the legend back to Japan — and this Catster obsession to a close — with a rendering of a ninja cat.
Visit Maldonado’s Facebook page to see more.