Art event featuring ‘comfort woman’ statue opens in Tokyo


A controversial art exhibition featuring works such as a statue symbolizing ‘comfort women’ who worked in Japan’s wartime military brothels finally opened in Tokyo on Saturday, after being postponed for around 10 months due to right-wing protests.

The four-day “non-free speech exhibition” in the suburban town of Kunitachi will feature the works of 16 artist collectives who were unable to see their works exhibited in government-funded galleries in because of what they call “censorship and – imposed banning.”

Photo taken on April 2, 2022 shows a statue of “comfort women” at the non-free speech exhibition which opened in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

The exhibition, then titled ‘After ‘Freedom of Expression?’ was forced to close its doors after three days in August 2019 in Nagoya when it was the target of threats. It then reopened in October for a further seven days under tight security and with limited attendance.

This latest iteration of the event was originally scheduled to be held in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, from June to July last year, but was postponed after protesters gathered in vehicles near the venue to protest exposure as “anti-Japan” by loudspeakers.

“We are so happy to finally be able to create an opportunity where people can actually see the exhibition,” said Yuka Okamoto, a member of the organizing committee. “We made every effort to make this happen.”

Organizers said they were ready to respond to any protests this time with the help of lawyers and volunteers.

Some people opposed to the exhibit gathered around the hall, where a man holding a microphone with a Japanese national flag displayed behind him was seen criticizing an Emperor Hirohito-themed artwork. “It hurts people’s feelings,” he said.

About 20 people also showed up in support of the arts event, some carrying signs saying, “We support freedom of expression.”

In July last year, a similar exhibit in Nagoya was canceled two days after it opened when a suspicious package exploded at the site.

Later that month, another controversial art event took place in Osaka under tight security despite repeated threats and protests.

A public institution in Osaka withdrew permission to host the exhibition, citing the difficulty of guaranteeing security, but the event took place after Japanese courts gave it the green light in order to protect the freedom of expression.

Photo taken on April 2, 2022 shows supporters of the non-free speech exhibition which opened in Tokyo. (Kyodo)


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