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Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace, 2011. Courtesy of the artists.
Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace, 2011. Courtesy of the artists.

Aichi Triennale Will Reopen Exhibition With “Comfort Woman” Statue

On Monday, Japan’s Aichi Triennale organization and Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya reached an agreement at Nagoya District Court to reopen the exhibition “After ‘Freedom of Exhibition’” for three days. The exhibition was closed in early August after organizers received threats over the inclusion of a “comfort woman” statue, which represents the estimated two hundred thousand women from Korea, China, and across Asia who the Japanese forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

Titled Statue of a Girl of Peace, the work was part of an exhibition showcasing art that had previously been censored. Artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung made the piece in 2011 as a tribute to the one-thousandth protest held in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul—demonstrations have taken place in front of the consulate every week for the last twenty years.

At the time of the show’s closure, Aichi governor Hideaki Omura said the decision was due to safety concerns. Show organizers had received dozens of threats by phone, email, and fax, including one that said: “I will visit the museum carrying a gasoline container,” echoing the arson attack on an animation studio in Kyoto that killed thirty-five people in July. The mayor of Nagoya, Takashi Kawamura, also mounted pressure on Omura by declaring that government funding should not support the display of the statue, which “tramples on the feelings of Japanese citizens.”

According to the Japan Times, the Cultural Affairs Agency pulled a more than $700,000 grant for the art festival last week. The agency cited procedural inadequacies and stated that the Aichi government did not provide enough information about the festival’s programming when applying for the subsidy.

The history of “comfort women” is a highly sensitive subject for Korea and Japan, and the controversy erupted at a moment when relations between Japan and South Korea were at an all-time low. Japan has denied that it enslaved workers during its occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945 until it issued an official apology for the first time in 2015. Japan’s trade sanctions against South Korea have further escalated tensions between the two countries. Over the years, dozens of comfort women statues have been installed by activists in Seoul and various other cities.

After the exhibition was shuttered, Korean artists Minouk Lim and Park Chan-kyong withdrew their artworks. Tania Bruguera, Javier Téllez, Pia Camil, and other participating artists pulled their works from the triennial soon thereafter and signed an open letter decrying censorship. The exhibition will reopen as early as Sunday with heightened security measures.