Photo/IllutrationDaisuke Tsuda, artistic director of the Aichi Triennale 2019, explains the reason for ending an exhibition on freedom of expression at a news conference in Nagoya on Aug. 3. (Yoichi Kawatsu)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGOYA--The artistic director of an international art festival here apologized on Aug. 3 for caving into public pressure and canceling a controversial art exhibition aimed at shedding light on freedom of expression only three days after opening.

Daisuke Tsuda pulled the exhibition featuring a statue symbolizing wartime "comfort women" and more than 20 pieces that have been removed from museums and display in Japan due to protests from Aichi Triennale 2019: Taming Y/Our Passion.

Tsuda, a journalist who was also involved in planning the exhibition, expressed his regret at a news conference on the evening that day.

“I ended up setting a bad example by scrapping a cultural event due to an attack by phone calls,” he said. “I have to accept criticism that I should have expected much worse than what I was prepared for.”

THREATS OF TERROR ATTACKS

Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura underlined the decision to withdraw the exhibition, titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” was made to safely continue with the Aichi Triennale.

“There were calls warning of a terror attack and threats,” he said at a news conference on the evening of Aug. 3. “One protester sent a fax threatening to visit the venue with a container of gasoline if exhibits were not removed.”

The exhibition is part of the triennale, which began at various venues in Aichi Prefecture on Aug. 1 and runs through Oct. 14. Omura chairs the organizing committee of the international art festival.

He noted that the local government should refrain from meddling in the content of an art festival but the decision was made to “ensure the smooth operation” of the triennale.

The “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” show was designed to prompt audiences to ponder freedom of expression by assembling the more than 20 pieces that have been removed previously from public view.

The most notable is a statue of a girl representing comfort women, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops before and during World War II. The work, “Statue of a Girl of Peace,” was created by South Korean sculptors.

Among other exhibits are photos of Korean former comfort women in China, a poem embracing the war-renouncing article of the Constitution and a video on the motif of Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989).

PAPER BAG PLACED OVER HEAD

On Aug. 3, the exhibition room, flooded with many visitors, was mostly calm except for a few waves made by an older man shouting at the statue as “the worst he has ever seen” and another man putting a paper bag over the head of the statue.

But another visitor angrily removed the bag from the sculpture, shouting at him, “What are you doing?”

Yutaka Nomura, 67, a resident of Yoro, Gifu Prefecture, said the statue turned out to be anticlimactic, except for its political implications of being set up near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Nomura, a former employee of the Nagoya municipal government, said he decided to visit the show after he became concerned about the call on Aug. 2 by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura to end the exhibition.

The mayor denounced the display of the statue, saying it “tramples on the feelings of Japanese.”

But Nomura said he finds Kawamura's comment disagreeable.

“It is not acceptable to make a personal comment as if it were public opinion,” he said.

FLOODED WITH PHONE CALLS, E-MAILS

After the exhibition opened on Aug. 1, the secretariat of the event was flooded with 200 phone calls and 500 e-mails condemning it.

On the morning of Aug. 2, a fax threatened an attack with gasoline, similar to an arson attack on an animation studio in Kyoto on July 18 that killed 35 people.

The secretariat added staff members who responded to the phone calls and listened to what callers had to say.

But calls and e-mails criticizing the exhibition were also made and sent to the prefectural government. Some callers burst into a fit of rage with switchboard operators after being put on hold for long waits.

As a result, officials involved in the triennale were tied up with dealing with complaints and left with less time to focus on the smooth operation of the event.

“There was an option to continue the exhibition,” Tsuda said at the news conference. “But some people on the front lines were saying it was getting to be ‘too much.’ I could not choose the option that could lead to ‘hellish days’ for them.”

Tsuda said half the complaints concerned the “Statue of a Girl of Peace,” while about 40 percent targeted the works relating to Hirohito.

Some critics insisted on getting the names of officials and posted the information on the Internet.

Tsuda said he suggested to Omura late on Aug. 2 that the exhibition could be suspended until the protests subsided.

But he leaned toward ending the show after the discussion with him.

“The suspension would be a stop-gap measure, and the phones would still keep ringing,” he said. “Considering the exhaustion of the staff, I could not choose the option to suspend.”

NO INPUT FROM ARTISTS

The agreement to end the event was reached between Omura and Tsuda, but not with input from artists in the exhibition.

Kim Eun-sung, a South Korean sculptor who created the statue of the girl with his wife, Kim Seo-kyung, told The Asahi Shimbun he regretted their decision.

“We wanted to have a dialogue with Japanese citizens through our works,” he said. “We believe that knowing each other better will lead to peace. We are extremely sorry.”

Koji Tonami, professor emeritus of the Constitution at Waseda University, blasted the decision to call off the exhibition, raising concerns about the implications for future events.

“Ending the exhibition by citing trouble is exactly what the critics wanted to see,” he said. “Freedom of expression should never be interrupted because of people who dislike exhibits.”