Comfort woman statue comes to Japan again after 20 months

Posted on : 2021-07-07 16:59 KST Modified on : 2021-07-07 16:59 KST
Coverage on Nagoya Television shows visitors to the gallery sitting in the chair next to the comfort woman statue and looking the statue in the eyes
“Statue of a Girl of Peace” is displayed at an art exhibition titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” that opened on Tuesday at Citizen’s Gallery Sakae, a public facility in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.
“Statue of a Girl of Peace” is displayed at an art exhibition titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” that opened on Tuesday at Citizen’s Gallery Sakae, a public facility in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

A “comfort woman” statue is being exhibited in Japan once again, one year and eight months after an exhibition featuring the statue was temporarily closed in an international art show in 2019 following complaints from Japanese right-wing activists.

Kyodo News and other Japanese news outlets reported that “Statue of a Girl of Peace” — representing one of the “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial army — appears in “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” an exhibition that opened Tuesday at Citizen’s Gallery Sakae, a public facility in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

Coverage on Nagoya Television shows visitors to the gallery sitting in the chair next to the comfort woman statue and looking the statue in the eyes. The statue, which depicts a seated girl, is modeled on the comfort woman statue installed in front of the Japanese embassy in downtown Seoul.

Nagoya Television reported that only 50 people were being admitted to the exhibition each hour to avoid crowding.

Other pieces in the exhibition include a series of photographs of Korean survivors of sexual slavery in China taken by Ahn Se-hong and a video shot by Nobuyuki Ohura of the burning of a photo collage of former Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

This exhibition features some of the pieces that appeared in a similar exhibition — also called “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” — that was part of the Aichi Triennale, Japan’s largest international art exhibition, which was held in August-October 2019. The comfort woman statue hasn’t been shown in Japan during the year and eight months since then.

A large number of Japanese viewers also sat down next to the comfort woman statue and peered into its eyes when it was displayed in 2019.

The comfort woman statue was just one of several pieces in the Aichi Triennale exhibition that challenged major taboos in Japanese society, such as the taboo on artwork about the emperor. That entire exhibition was closed after just three days following complaints and threats by right-wing activists and was then reopened three days before the Triennale’s closing ceremony.

Subsequent attempts to display the comfort woman statue have been thwarted by complaints and attacks by the Japanese right wing.

The statue was supposed to appear in a session of “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” in Tokyo last month, but the gallery refused to host the exhibition out of fear of right-wing attacks. A similar event was canceled in Osaka because of safety concerns following right-wing attacks.

The exhibition in Nagoya will be held through Sunday. Nagoya Television reported that Citizen’s Gallery Sakae said it will host the exhibition “if safety can be secured.”

But right-wing activists have repeatedly organized protests and threats, provoking safety concerns that have ultimately caused exhibitions to be delayed, suspended, or canceled. Those activists have reportedly protested the exhibition in Nagoya as well.

A separate exhibition opposing “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” is also scheduled to be held on the same floor of the gallery from Friday to Sunday. This exhibition was arranged by a group with links to the former head of Zaitokukai (Association of Citizens against the Special Privileges of the Zainichi), a Japanese group infamous for discrimination and hate speech, according to the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

The members of the committee organizing “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” announced Thursday that the exhibition would be held in Nagoya. In their announcement, they said that many Japanese supported the exhibition despite right-wing attacks.

“What’s important right now is for artists, viewers, and planners to join forces and say no to these unfair attacks. Join with us in a heartfelt prayer for the success of the exhibition in Nagoya,” the committee members said.

By Cho Ki-weon, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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