The revelation that Hello Kitty is not a cat shocked many who have purchased her merchandise for a child or inner child. The not-kitty news adds anticipation as the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles and Sanrio are preparing Hello Kitty’s upcoming birthday retrospective exhibit and plans the first-ever Hello Kitty Con (convention).
Turning 40 is a big deal for many. It is a time to question what one has done in life so far. Hello Kitty’s 40th birthday has resulted in many questioning the perception of her felineness. The cat-erwauling or cat-astrophic reaction have certainly added curiosity to the global icon’s museum show celebrating her four decades as a cultural phenomenon.
Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, the first large-scale museum retrospective on the character opens on Oct. 11 and runs through Apr. 26, 2015, at the JANM, in downtown L.A. The Hello Kitty Con will be Oct. 30-Nov. 2 at the nearby Geffen Contemporary at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Die-hard fans will note that the convention coincides with the actual birthday given the character by her creators – Nov. 1.
The museum show’s curator, Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist from the University of Hawaii (and currently a visiting professor at Harvard), sent Sanrio, the character’s Japanese parent company, the exhibit script to review and fact-check. The company corrected Yano’s description of the character as a cat. They responded that Hello Kitty is a cartoon girl, not a cat, and is never depicted on all fours. Neither are Mickey Mouse or Bullwinkle, but their parent companies do not claim they are men.
Cat-tiness aside, Sanrio actually told Yano the character’s bio. She is Kitty White, one of the twin daughters of George and Mary. The Whites reside near London, are British, and their daughters are in third grade (forever).
The museum worked with Sanrio on the exhibit and catalog, because “Hello Kitty is a beloved icon, both within the Japanese American community and globally,” according to Greg Kimura, President and CEO of JANM. He reports that the exhibition is going to “be a blockbuster,” featuring historical artifacts and works by artists inspired by Hello Kitty.
The exhibition will explore Hello Kitty’s influence in bridging Japanese and American cultures (because she’s British?) according to planners. The character actually debuted on a vinyl coin purse in 1974 in Japan. Since then, the brand’s phenomenal evolution and fans’ emotional connection have been unparalleled. Her pointy ears, button nose, blank expression, as well as a tale and whiskers (which are not a common British girl features!) have since appeared on countless articles of clothing, toys, accessories for all ages and price points, bicycles, home and office décor, Visa cards and even a fleet of EVA Air Boeing 777-300ER jetliners.
Regardless of lingering questions of her felineness, Hello Kitty has undeniably been a global character that is beloved worldwide, so the news adds to anticipation of the museum and convention plans. The upcoming events in Los Angeles promise to be hot tickets. In fact, convention tickets have been on sale already and several workshops are already sold out. The museum is putting tickets for its exhibit on sale Sep. 29. JANM also has several special events planned tied to the Hello Kitty exhibit.
By Dyanne Weiss