Photo/IllutrationPeople gather to see the results of a lottery for tickets to the art exhibit “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’’’ on Oct. 14 in Nagoya. (Yoichi Kawatsu)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGOYA--The Aichi Triennale 2019 international art festival ended on a celebratory note on Oct. 14 after more than two months of protests over an exhibit and a heightened defense for freedom of expression.

As the exhibits closed at 5 p.m. at the Nagoya City Art Museum in the prefectural capital, Daisuke Tsuda, the artistic director of the Aichi Triennale, emerged with about 20 curators and volunteers to send off the visitors.

Crowds had gathered at the Shikemichi and Endoji temple area to start a countdown to the 8 p.m. closing of the entire event. They tossed Tsuda and Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura into the air several times in celebration.

“We could end it peacefully,” a relieved-looking Tsuda told the applauding crowd. “It became a ‘minus’ once, but we aimed to come out even. Then we could finish it with a ‘plus.’”

Omura, who served as chairman of the triennale’s organizing committee, reflected on the art festival that opened on Aug. 1.

“In the past 75 days, plenty of tasks and challenges have fallen upon us one after another,” Omura said.

The triennale had been held at the Aichi Arts Center and two other facilities in Nagoya, as well as the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art and the surrounding area of Toyota-shi Station, also in Aichi Prefecture.

But the focus of attention, even before the festival started, was on an art exhibit titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’’’

The exhibit drew outrage over a sculpture symbolizing “comfort women” who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops before and during World War II and a video showing portraits of Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), posthumously known as Emperor Showa, and others being burned.

After hundreds of phone calls of protests and even threats of violence, the exhibit was shut down just three days after the triennale opened.

Artists criticized the decision as caving in to calls for censorship.

That criticism intensified when the Agency for Cultural Affairs decided to withdraw an already-approved subsidy for the Aichi Triennale.

After much debate, the exhibit reopened on Oct. 8. Interest was so high for the exhibit that a lottery system had to be used to distribute the limited tickets.

For the last viewing, 1,207 people lined up to enter a drawing for 80 tickets.

The organizer held three drawings on the day. A total of 3,166 people applied for a chance to win one of the 240 tickets.

“I thought it was a lurid illustration of today’s suffocating Japanese society, where people are unable to fully exercise the freedom of expression and freedom of art,” Omura said.

Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, deputy chairman of the triennale’s organizing committee, led calls to close the exhibit. He even staged a sit-in at the site when “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’’’ was reopened.

Omura described Kawamura’s performance as a “totally unforgivable act.”

“What he did was a reckless attempt that menaced the safety of the prefectural government’s employees and put them at risk,” Omura said. “He cannot get away with it by just saying ‘sorry.’”

Some members of the group that organized the art exhibit, including authors, held a news conference on the final day of the triennale.

“We are delighted the exhibit was reopened but have mixed emotions as well,” one member said.

They said some problems were not properly addressed, such as banning visitors from posting pictures of the exhibit on social media sites.

“It’s not like the challenges against freedom of expression have disappeared,” one member said.

(This article was written by Masahiro Iwao, Sayaka Emukai and Naoko Yamashita.)