More than six months after an exhibition organized as part of the Aichi Triennale in Japan was shuttered following political and violent threats, the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art in Taiwan announced that it would host the show in its studio space in the spring.
Following the opening of the exhibition “After ‘Freedom of Expression?,’” which focused on the history of censorship in Japan, in August, the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya received numerous death threats by phone, email, and over fax over its inclusion of a “comfort woman” statuea monument that commemorates Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War IItitled Statue of Peace.
While the organizers of the exhibition cited the safety of museum staff and visitors as the reason for the closure, the participating artists and others opposed to the decision condemned the move as censorshipthe topic of comfort women remains a sensitive issue for Japan. Many expressed concern over the number of local lawmakers, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who spoke out against the exhibition. The Cultural Affairs Agency, which previously pledged to provide 78 million yen in financial support to the triennial, later declared that it would not pay.
The controversy prompted more than a dozen artists, including Tania Bruguera, Pia Camil, Minouk Lim, Pedro Reyes, and Javier Téllez, to sign a letter addressed to the show’s organizers, which read: “We consider it an ethical obligation to stand by the exhibiting artists’ voices and their work being exhibited. Freedom of expression is an unalienable right that needs to be defended independently of any context.”
While artistic director Daisuke Tsuda publicly apologized to the artists whose works were in the exhibition and for the “strong sense of indignation and disappointment” felt by the artists who ultimately withdrew works from the triennial in protest, he also defended the action and said that the exhibition drew “threats beyond our expectations.”
A government-appointed review board led by Toshio Yamanashi, director of the National Museum of Art, in Osaka later found that the closure and removal of the sculpture by Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung was justified. It concluded that Tsuda deviated from the concept of the show by incorporating several new works when it apparently was only supposed to feature pieces that had previously been censored by the state. It also stated that Tsuda failed to effectively communicate with curators, administrators, and others involved in the festival, which was held from August 1 to October 14.
While the exhibition briefly reopened in October, it was only on view for a few days and visitors had to enter a lottery in order to see it.