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Freedom Fighting: Nagoya's censored art exhibition...

Oktober 2019
Source: The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 17 | Issue 20 | Number 3 | Article ID 5320 | Oct 15, 2019
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Freedom Fighting: Nagoya’s censored art exhibition and the “comfort women” controversy

David McNeill

An exhibition of censored artwork in Nagoya city triggers a furious debate on artistic expression.

The artistic director of the Aichi Triennale 2019 had few illusions when he planned an exhibition called “After Freedom of Expression”. By choosing items that poked
painfully at some of Japan’s most tender spots - war crimes, subservience to America and the status of the imperial family - Tsuda Daisuke wanted to “provoke discussion” on the health of freedom of expression in the country. But what followed, he says, was  “beyond our expectations”.

In the three days after the exhibition opened on August 1st at the Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya, the organizers were besieged with hundreds of angry phone calls and emails. Protesters shouted at staff or poured liquid on the floor, threatening to burn the exhibition to the ground. One man, later arrested, faxed in a handwritten threat to firebomb the exhibits in the same week as an arson attack on a Kyoto animation studio that killed 36 people. “It was very frightening,” recalls Iida Shihoko, the Triennale’s chief curator. What surprised her, she says, was that so many – perhaps most – of the protesters were women. Though the center had planned for blowback by hiring extra staff, they were quickly overwhelmed. As public servants, custom dictated they had to give their names if callers requested and listen patiently to tirades that could stretch for over an hour. Many callers appeared to be reading from scripts – “the staff could hear the pages rustling,” says Tsuda.

Far from being a spontaneous eruption of public fury, this campaign appears to have been coordinated, says Iida. Callers had the same talking points, which echoed the rhetoric of conservative politicians, notably Kawamura Takashi, the mayor of Nagoya and a member of the ultra-right lobby group, Nippon Kaigi. Kawamura made a highly publicized visit to the exhibition, where he zeroed in on a statue of a Korean “comfort woman” by the husband-and wife sculptor team Kim Seogyeong and Unseong. Officially called “Monument to Peace,” the statue, Kawamura intoned, “tramples on the feelings of the Japanese people” and shouldn’t be supported with taxpayers money (税金を使ってやるべきものではない). His intervention seemed to egg the protesters on. On August 3rd, Tsuda and Omura Hideaki, the governor of Aichi pulled the plug ....

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