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Japan Embassy pulls backing for Vienna exhibition with works about Fukushima No. 1 and WWII

Kyodo, Staff Report

The Japanese Embassy in Austria has withdrawn its endorsement of an art exhibition in Vienna to mark 150 years of bilateral diplomatic ties, deeming some politically and socially critical art works inappropriate, according to the embassy and organizers.

The “Japan Unlimited” exhibition, held since late September with the help of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, features some works on the theme of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis as well as Japan’s wartime history.

Some artists participating in the Austrian event had also taken part in the “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’ ” exhibition in Nagoya that sparked controversy.

Withdrawal of the embassy’s endorsement came after an unidentified Japanese lawmaker who learned of the artists’ participation in both the Nagoya and Vienna exhibitions asked the Japanese Foreign Ministry to look into the matter, according to “Japan Unlimited” curator Marcello Farabegoli.

The embassy said its officials who visited the exhibition concluded it does not facilitate mutual understanding and friendship between the two countries, and notified the organizers of the retraction of its endorsement on Oct. 30.

The exhibition, scheduled to run through Nov. 24, will now go on without the official logo identifying the event as a project for the anniversary year.

Art works in the exhibition included one showing blood in the pattern of Japan’s rising sun symbol streaming down from radiation protection gear, and a video of a person posing as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologizing to China and South Korea for the country’s wartime aggression.

A piece based on a picture of Emperor Hirohito, who is known posthumously as Emperor Showa, and Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Allied Powers that occupied Japan after World War II, also satirizes Japan’s postwar relations with the United States.

The Vienna exhibition was meant to highlight some of Japan’s “most active artists engaging with the limits and opportunities of politically and socially critical art in their country,” according to the curator’s website.

Japan’s “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’ ” exhibition, held as part of the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival between Aug. 1 and Oct. 14, prompted a backlash in some quarters as it featured a statue symbolizing “comfort women.” The term 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.

The exhibition ran for 10 days in total due to a flurry of protests and threats.

Japan’s culture agency announced in September it had decided not to provide state subsidies for the Aichi art festival, saying it was not informed in advance that the exhibition could trigger an outcry that would jeopardize the event’s smooth operation.

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