The Exhibit Lauded Freedom of Expression. It Was Silenced.

Breaking News
tags: Japan, art, exhibition, South Korea

It was an exhibit meant to celebrate freedom of expression. Instead, freedom of expression was shut down.

A long, bitter battle between Japan and South Korea over historical memory and atonement spilled over into the art world over the weekend when organizers of an international fair in Japan closed an exhibition that featured a statue symbolizing one of the Korean women forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The exhibit, “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” was intended to showcase artwork that had been excluded from museums in Japan or elsewhere.

“I see the current situation as something that proves freedom of expression is being undermined,” Daisuke Tsuda, the artistic director of the Aichi Triennale, the host of the exhibition, said in a statement.

Mr. Tsuda said that he regretted the decision, which officials said was made after threats of terrorism.

Statues of so-called comfort women have long been an irritant to Japanese nationalists who dispute that the women were forced into servitude. When the exhibit opened last week, several right-leaning lawmakers from the party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protested the inclusion of the statue, the work of two South Korean artists.

Officially, the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Hideaki Omura, cited a decision to “put a priority on safety” in closing the exhibit at the Aichi Triennale, which is held in Nagoya, Japan’s fourth-largest city, and is one of the more internationally visible Japanese art fairs.

Less than three weeks ago, an attacker set fire to an animation studio in Kyoto and killed 35 people. Mr. Omura said faxes sent to the festival organizers warned of similar attacks.

But there was little question that politics was also involved.

After visiting the exhibit last week, Takashi Kawamura, the mayor of Nagoya, said he wanted it closed because it “tramples on the feelings of Japanese citizens.”

Read entire article at New York Times