The Aichi Triennale arts festival closed on Oct. 14, and, along with it, a controversial exhibition titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'”, which had been temporarily shut down following threats of violence and complaints. The main point of contention was a statue of a Korean “comfort woman,” the inclusion of which angered those who don’t think that the women who sexually serviced Japanese soldiers before and during World War II were forced or coerced into such service, which is what the statue represents. 

The exhibit featured another work that was equally condemned but which received less media attention, probably because its actual meaning wasn’t so clear to most people. The piece, titled “Enkin o Kakaete Part II” (“Holding Perspective Part II”), is a video depicting a printed image of Emperor Showa being burned. It is based on a collage by the same artist, Nobuyuki Oura, created in the 1980s. The collage incorporated pictures of the emperor with other images of Western and Asian art, and some believe that using a picture of the emperor in an artwork is inherently disrespectful, even blasphemous. These critics protested after some pieces in the collage were purchased by a museum in Toyama, forcing the entity to sell the artworks and burn copies of the museum catalogue explaining the exhibit. The subsequent work shown at the Aichi Triennale was, in part, a comment on the burning of the catalogues and not an explicit act of violence against the imperial system, according to Oura in an interview that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun on Oct. 12. It was akin to a religious act, Oura said, just as a portable shrine (mikoshi) is burned as a form of prayer. 

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