NAGOYA – International artists are putting pressure on the organizers of an international cultural festival in Nagoya after an exhibit featuring a statue of a girl symbolizing “comfort women” was canceled.
The executive committee of the Aichi Triennale 2019 cultural festival, which is showcasing works by over 90 domestic and international artists and groups, came under fire for calling off the “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'” exhibit that featured the controversial statue, among other items.
The exhibit was closed Aug. 3 after it was bombarded with complaints and threats on Aug. 1, soon after it opened.
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, who heads the organizing committee, told a news conference on Aug. 3 that there are growing worries about safely managing the exhibit as the committee had received a number of threatening emails, phone calls and faxes.
One of the faxes it received, according to Omura, read, “I will bring a gasoline container to the museum,” a threat that resembled the recent deadly arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio.
The term comfort women is a euphemism referring to women who worked in brothels, including those who did so against their will, to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
According to the organizers, two South Korean artists and the U.S. nonprofit news organization Center for Investigative Reporting requested that their works be withdrawn from another part of the festival to protest the cancellation. The executive committee has already taken steps to close their respective exhibits.
A group of 11 international artists taking part in the festival, including the two South Korean artists who withdrew their work, released a statement dated Monday calling for the reopening of the controversial exhibit. The group, which also includes artists from Mexico and Spain, called for their works to be removed until the exhibit is reopened.
“As a cultural institution, it is the Aichi Triennale’s responsibility to stand by the rights of its exhibiting artists and to protect freedom of expression,” the statement said.
The organizers said they “want to continue discussion while respecting the will of each artist.”
On Wednesday, writer Hiroki Azuma expressed on Twitter his intention to resign as the festival’s planning adviser over the foreign artists’ withdrawals.
Earlier this week it was reported that the comfort women statue had been bought by a Spanish businessman who plans to put it on display at a new museum planned for next year.