The History of Rope Bondage Art

Art featuring people tied up with rope dates back hundreds of years, in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Here are a few points along the timeline that have been particularly influential to my work.

Seme-E

The Japanese history of bondage art is rooted in a long history of erotic torture art, called seme-e, a popular theme in visual art as well astraditional theater forms like Noh and Kabuki.

One of the most influential pieces of early Japanese bondage art is a woodblock print made in 1885 by Taiso Yoshitoshi called the Lonley House on Adachi Moor. it depcits a harggard old demon woman sharpening her knife by a roaring fire, preparing to cook a pregnant topless woman, hung from the rafters with rope by her ankles.

Edo Era Torture

In 1893, artist Fujita Shintaro released a book of drawings of draconian Edo era torture methods. The book served as propaganda for the Meji era reformism. In it, he beautifully illustrates four levels of traditional torture: flogging, pressing with stones, the ebi bondage position and rope suspension.

Ito Seiu

Seiu Ito was a Japanese painter, born in 1882, who is considered the father of modern Japanese bondage. He is especially known for his Bound Woman in Snow painting, based on actual photographs he took of his young second wife, during a photoshoot that almost killed her via hypothermia.

Perils of Pauline

Perhaps the earliest on screen appearance of a damsel in distress, tied to train tracks, The Perils of Pauline was a film serial released in America in 1914 and demonstrates many of the key elements of the western bondage art tradition. Including the damsel tie.

Sweet Gwendoline

In 1947, bondage John Willie began publishing a series of comics depicting a damsel-in-distress female protagonist named Sweet Gwendoline. Reminiscent of the Perils of Pauline, Willie’s work features much more detailed rope bondage, including damsel ties and hog ties.

Kitan Club

Kitan Club was a bondage magazine published from the late 1940s through the 70s in Japan. The first and most prominent magazine of a period that could be called the golden age of Japanese bondage photography. Many of the most important shibari artists of the century contributed to Kitan Club. 

Bettie Page

Beginning in 1951, Bettie Page began posing in fetish photos for Irving Klaw’s mail order business. During this period she also worked with John Willie. In the 1980s there was renewed interest in Bettie Page’s fetish and bondage work and subsequent books and movies about her served to popularize bondage pinup modeling.

Nobuyoshi Araki

Widely credited with popularizing shibari in the west, Nobuyoshi Araki is a Japanese photographer known for his prolific output of photobooks and a career spanning museum level fine art and amateur pornography. Araki tied Lady Gaga in 2009, but is not known for actually tying the rope seen in most of his photographs.