Legend has it that Japan's origins stem from the outcome of a sumo match when the behemoth god Takemikazuchi defeated a tribal rival, giving birth to the Land of the Rising Sun. Accordingly, more than mere bovine bullies clad in kinky codpieces to our Western eyes, Japan's sumo wrestlers are considered royalty and the sport revered as the country's national pastime. Unlike America's mayhem-mad "professional" wrestling -- where skull-crackers like the Undertaker and Viscera club each other with two-by-fours and folding chairs -- sumo's rikishi seem a kinder, gentler lot whose matches are short, bloodless affairs.
The highly ritualized combat during sumo tournaments (basho) is mostly psychological and takes place before the grappling begins, with burly bruisers powdering themselves to avoid rashes, tossing salt in the air to appease the gods, and locking eyes with opponents in intimidating stare-downs.
For artist Luis Alonzo-Barkigia, Western misconceptions about the two sports provide a fertile ground for exploring cultural stereotypes. "Contemporary art has a strong relationship with Japanese pop culture," he says. "I find that banal or superficial approaches to describing the differences between cultures creates a space for a dialogue; it allows you to study and penetrate deeper."
His project "Titanes" sounds a gong to audience members, inviting the daring to don hand-sewn sumo suits and go to the mat for East-West relations. Curated by Nina Arias, "Titanes" is a one-night sumo wrestling event and Japanese costume party under a giant floating pagoda, with geishas on hand to paint faces and thunderous demon drummers to stoke on the hordes (who are encouraged to come as their favorite anime characters) during this zany extravaganza. Alonzo-Barkigia, who has created the pagoda, wrestling platform, and six character sumo suits for the performance, hopes people will get cranked and volunteer to participate in the bouts: "There is something about masquerading as a mythological character that makes one act larger than life. It's exciting and scary to see how people will react."