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

Following Closure of Aichi Triennale Exhibition, Artists Speak Out Against Gender Discrimination in Japan

More than 370 artists and cultural workers have signed a statement protesting gender discrimination in Japan. In the days since the Aichi Triennale exhibition “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” was shuttered by the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya following threats of violence over one of its works, artists, curators, and other creatives have demanded that the show be reopened, pulled works from the triennial, and penned statements decrying the alleged censorship.

A new statement circulating online claims that the controversy has mostly gained traction as a freedom of speech issue, but that it also needs to be addressed within a framework of women’s rights. The artwork at the center of the ongoing drama is Statue of Peace, a “comfort woman” statue that represents the women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II. “Contrary to contentions that it espouses anti-Japanese propaganda, Statue of Peace was made by the artists to commemorate the courage of the survivors of the ‘comfort woman’ system, to acknowledge their trauma, and to encourage the public to reflect on the history of conflict-related sexual violence,” the statement reads.

It continues: “Despite the many decades that have passed since the era of the ‘comfort woman’ system, gender-based discrimination remains pervasive at all levels of Japanese society today. Such discrimination of course affects diverse genders. To accept it is to perpetuate the violation of the human rights of all genders and others in socially vulnerable or marginalized positions.” The signatories are calling for the exhibition to be reopened. In addition, a webpage has been created where people can sign a “gender free statement.”