Date of Award

Spring 5-2-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art and Design

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Richmond

Second Advisor

Dr. Maria Gindhart

Third Advisor

Dr. John Decker


Miwa Yanagi’s Elevator Girls series, a collection of glossy photographs featuring groups of similarly clad women lingering in expansive, empty arcades, made its international debut in 1996. While the pieces garnered positive reactions, Yanagi found that most Western viewers read her work as predominantly “Oriental”—confirming stereotypes of a highly polished techno-topic Japan that was still negotiating gender equality.

In this thesis, I explore alternative ways of reading Yanagi’s Elevator Girls series, which, I argue, call attention to myopic views of commercialism and identity in order to provide an alternative reading of these women as agents of transgression and ideological transcendence. Whereas many viewed Yanagi’s works as a comment on capitalist machinations, where consumerism has produced soulless, vapid feminine identities, I focus on the ways in which these women exercise agency without relying on notions of an individualized, unique ego.