Lax assumptions of Aichi festival organizers behind exhibit’s closure

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt can be said that questions have arisen about the operations of an art festival that is public in nature.

A special exhibition called “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” at Aichi Triennale 2019, an international art festival being held in Aichi Prefecture, was canceled only three days after the festival’s opening.

A fax that read, “If you don’t remove it, I will visit with a canister of gasoline,” and other similar messages were sent in response to the exhibition displaying a statue of a girl symbolizing so-called comfort women. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who chairs the festival organizing committee, decided to cancel the exhibition for safety reasons.

Attempts to suppress acts of expression using terrorism or intimidation should never be tolerated. This must first be made it clear.

The man who sent the fax was arrested by the Aichi prefectural police on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business. The police must continue to strictly deal with malicious acts.

The prefectural government and the Nagoya municipal government are involved in the operation of the festival, and have also disbursed funds to the festival. In addition to the statue of a young girl, the exhibition also included a video of the burning of an artwork that used a portrait of Emperor Showa. The works seems to be imbued with specific political messages.

Freedom of expression in art must be respected to the greatest extent possible. However, as long as an administrative body is involved in the management of an exhibition, the administrative body concerned certainly bears a certain amount of responsibility for the works that are exhibited and the way they are displayed.

Lack of discussion evident

At an exhibition that is expected to attract an unspecified large number of people, unilaterally displaying artwork with a strong political nature without presenting the views of critics may give the impression that the administrative body concerned approves of them. This could invite a backlash from those who find the work offensive.

Works displayed at the special exhibition had caused controversy in the past.

A haiku themed on Article 9 of the Constitution was denied publication in a community hall newsletter, an act that a court later ruled to be illegal. An artwork that took Emperor Showa as a motif was the target of strong protest, and a public art museum closed the work to the public for management reasons. The decision was upheld by a court.

Omura wanted to hold an “edgy art festival” and asked art director Daisuke Tsuda to plan it. It is difficult to say that thorough discussions were held about how to show consideration for people who might take offense or how to best display the artworks, despite the fact that the works were expected to cause controversy.

Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura criticized the exhibition of the girl’s statue after the opening of the festival, despite holding the post of acting chairman of the organizing committee.

The organizers’ lax assumptions and insufficient preparation can be said to be responsible for setting the precedent of canceling an exhibition after a threat. This fact must be taken seriously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9, 2019)Speech


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