Controversial Art Exhibition Featuring ‘Comfort Woman’ Statue Reopens in Nagoya

A statue symbolizing "comfort women" at the Aichi Triennale art festival in Nagoya is seen on Aug. 3. After a two-month shutdown, the exhibit reopened Tuesday.

From The Japan Times, October 8, 2019

An art exhibition that sparked controversy for featuring a statue symbolizing “comfort women” reopened Tuesday in Nagoya, with organizers placing tighter security and limiting the number of visitors after it was abruptly closed two months ago following threats.

The statue, sculpted by a South Korean husband-and-wife team, and other works that had been on display at the exhibition — titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” — before the shutdown will continue to be shown until the art festival ends on Oct. 14.

The exhibition at the Aichi Triennale 2019 was canceled three days after its Aug. 1 opening, with organizers citing security reasons after receiving numerous complaints and threats.

It showcased art works previously not shown due to what critics call censorship, including a piece on Japan’s imperial system, besides the statue symbolizing comfort women.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

Critics and many artists have argued that the shutdown was an act of censorship, rather than one of safety.

The tighter security measures introduced Tuesday include baggage inspections using metal detectors.

“I thought it is not right that people criticize (the exhibition) without actually seeing the works,” said a man in his 50s who came to the venue from Osaka before the reopening. “Now I can finally see it for myself.”

People lined up on Tuesday to take part in a lottery to join the two groups of 30 people allowed to enter the exhibition. Winners will go through an education program prior to receiving a guided tour and are banned from taking pictures or video.

The organizers also introduced steps to better deal with telephone complaints about the art works.

The measures were some of the conditions requested by Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who heads the art festival’s steering committee, after an investigative panel set up over the issue called for the reopening last month.

Meanwhile, Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura criticized the event as “outrageous,” saying “it’s hijacking public opinion in the name of freedom of expression,” after visiting the exhibition Tuesday.

The mayor, who is the steering committee’s deputy head, has also said Nagoya will not pay some ¥33.8 million as part of the expenses for holding the event by the Oct. 18 deadline.

The comfort women issue has been a major sticking point in Japan-South Korea relations, which have recently sunk to the lowest point in years due to disputes over wartime history and tighter export controls.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has also withdrawn a grant worth approximately ¥78 million for the art festival, saying the Aichi government failed to provide necessary information when applying for the state subsidy.

Culture minister Koichi Hagiuda said Tuesday that the reopening does not change the agency’s decision and denied allegations that the agency decided not to pay the subsidy because it deemed the exhibition’s contents inappropriate.

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