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

Police Arrest Man Who Made Arson Threat over Aichi Triennale Exhibition in Japan

Japanese authorities have detained a fifty-nine-year-old man who faxed a threat to the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya for including a “comfort woman” statue in an exhibition that was organized as part of the Aichi Triennale. According to the Japan Times, the man was identified as Shuji Hotta, a truck driver from Inazawa. He was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of obstruction of business by force.

Hotta became a suspect after the police discovered security camera footage of him sending a fax the day of the threat. The handwritten note, which said that the museum would be set on fire with gasoline if the statue wasn’t removed, in addition to a number of other threats that were made via phone and email, led the museum to shutter the exhibition. The fax was sent more than two weeks after an arsonist targeted an animation studio in Kyoto, which resulted in the death of thirty-five people. Among those killed were anime director Yasuhiro Takemoto and about twenty women, many of them employees of the studio.

While the museum claims it closed “After ‘Freedom of Expression?,’” which focused on the history of censorship in Japan, due to safety concerns, more than seventy of the artists participating in the triennial have issued a statement denouncing the decision. Posted on Facebook, an excerpt from the statement reads: “The closure of the exhibit just three days after the triennale opening has robbed people of the opportunity to see the artworks and foreclosed any active discussion of them. Moreover, it has shut down the diversity of responses, ranging from feelings of anger to sorrow, that viewers might have had in front of the artworks. We strongly object to any violent intervention by politicians into exhibits, screenings, and performances at art institutions, and the kinds of menacing acts and intimidation that drove the triennale to close ‘After “Freedom of Expression?”’ as an emergency measure.”

Among those who signed the statement, which demands the immediate restoration of the exhibition, are Aoki Miku, Candice Breitz, Tania Bruguera, Pia Camil, Dora García, Masumoto Yoshiko, and Yuan Goang-Ming. In addition, women have been protesting the closure by posting photos of themselves in the same position as the “comfort woman” featured in the show—seated next to an empty chair with their hands resting in their laps. Created by Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace, is meant to represent the Asian women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces during World War II. Dozens of other “comfort women” statues have been made by other artists and activists over the years and have been erected in front of Japanese embassies and consulates around the world.

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