We, the undersigned artists and cultural workers, feel compelled to speak out against the closure of “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” at Aichi Triennale 2019 from the perspective of gender equality—one of the stated principles of the Triennale’s organization.
One of the primary targets of the harassment and threats of violence received by the Triennale was the sculpture Statue of Peace by Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, a work inspired by the voices and experiences of the women who suffered under the “comfort woman” system of forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and human trafficking exploited by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy in military campaigns in the Asia-Pacific from the 1930s onwards. This is a work of art that fundamentally addresses the human rights of women. Contrary to contentions that it espouses anti-Japanese propaganda, Statue of Peace was made by the artists to commemorate the courage of the survivors of the “comfort woman” system, to acknowledge their trauma, and to encourage the public to reflect on the history of conflict-related sexual violence. The opposition and hate speech that have been directed against the work in recent weeks, as well as the pressure that politicians have applied on the Triennale in their calls for the work’s removal, are rooted in misperception and far exceed fair critique of the work. Such responses to the work unfortunately reflect the pervasive entrenchment of discrimination against women in Japanese society today, and stand in direct contradiction to the Triennale’s commitment to gender equality.
Despite the many decades that have passed since the era of the “comfort woman” system, gender-based discrimination remains pervasive at all levels of Japanese society today. Such discrimination of course affects diverse genders. To accept it is to perpetuate the violation of the human rights of all genders and others in socially vulnerable or marginalized positions.
With acute consciousness of the history of sexual violence and discrimination to which the survivors of the “comfort woman” system were subjected, we voice our strong objection to all forms of gender discrimination, as well as to discrimination in general.
Statue of Peace could have provided an opportunity for much-needed discussion in the context of the Triennale. This opportunity has sadly been lost due to verbal attacks and threats of violence. We harbor grave misgivings that the same kind of violent suppression of human rights–related discourse will be used again in the future to silence those who wish to address Japan’s history of aggression. Yet after all that has happened, we still believe in our capacity to empathize with and love others, and in the creativity of art past, present, and future as means for resisting such forces of oppression. As such, we call for the complete restoration of the autonomy of the Triennale and its participating artists, starting with the necessary reopening of “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”
September 4, 2019
Signed by 155 artists and cultural workers (as of September 4, 2019)
An updated list of signatories can be found here.
Ai Ohashi (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Ahn Sehong (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Arai Hiroyuki (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Chan Cho Kiu
Chim↑Pom (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Kim-Eun-sung (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Kim-Seo-kyung (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Koizumi Meiro (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong
Nagata Kouzou (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Womens Action Network
Okamoto Yuka (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Regina José Galindo
Shimada Yoshiko (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Shirakawa Yoshio (“After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”)
Tan Ru Yi
Tania Pérez Córdova
This article was updated at 5:35pm on September 6, 2019, to replace the hyperlink to the dedicated site for the Artists and Cultural Workers’ Statement on Gender Equality and “After ‘Freedom of Expression?'”, where there is a current list of signatories. The new url is: https://refreedomaichi.wixsite.com/genderfree