Tania Bruguera and Others Are Demanding Their Works Be Removed From the Aichi Triennale After a Censorship Controversy

The artists released a letter in a solidarity with the creators of a controversial sculpture of a “comfort woman.”

Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace (2011). Courtesy of the artists.

Earlier this month, the organizers of the 2019 Aichi Triennale in Japan abruptly closed one of the event’s exhibitions over a controversy stemming from one divisive sculpture. Now, a group of prominent artists are demanding that their own works be removed from the triennial in solidarity with the censored sculptors.  

The closed exhibition, titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?,” was shut down just three days after it opened after curators received hundreds of complaints about Statue of a Girl of Peace by Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung. The sculpture depicts a “comfort woman”—one of many thousands of women sold into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. 

Some protesters even threatened violence because of the sculpture, such as one man who said he would bring a canister of gasoline to the Aichi Prefecture Museum of Art, where the show was held, and burn it down.  

Ten artists have now released an open letter to the organizers of the Aichi Triennale expressing frustration over the fact that “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” hasn’t yet reopened. The story was first reported by ARTnews.

Murayama Goro, <i>The portrait to Umwelts & programs</i> (2015), included in the 2019 Aichi Trienniale. Photo: Takafumi Kato.

Murayama Goro, The portrait to Umwelts & programs (2015), included in the 2019 Aichi Trienniale. Photo: Takafumi Kato.

“As a public gesture of solidarity with the censored artists, we demand that the organizers temporarily suspend the exhibition of our artworks in the Triennale while ‘After “Freedom of Expression”?’ remains closed to the public,” the letter reads. “Through this action, we sincerely hope that the organizers of the Aichi Triennale will reopen the section… and continue with their valuable work without thwarting freedom of expression by giving way to political intervention and violence.”

The letter, released on Wednesday, is signed by Tania Bruguera, Javier Téllez, Regina José Galindo, Mónica Mayer, Pia Camil, Claudia Martínez Garay, Minouk Lim, Reynier Leyva Novo, Park Chan-kyong, and Pedro Reyes. Reyes also served as a curator for the Triennale.

Representatives from the Aichi Triennale did not immediately respond to artnet News’s request for comment.

The letter follows a previous statement, which was issued on Facebook days after the show was closed and signed by 85 of the nearly 100 artists and collectives participating in the Triennale. In it, the artists requested that the show be reopened under proper security measures. 

“Normally an exhibition space is meant to be an open, public site, but the closure of the exhibit just three days after the Triennale opening has robbed people of the opportunity to see the artworks and foreclosed any active discussion of them,” the Facebook letter states.

Last week, the 59-year-old man who allegedly threatened the Triennale with an arson attack was arrested after authorities discovered security footage of him sending the message, according to the Japan Times. For many, the threat evoked last month’s attack on the Kyoto Animation studio in Japan, which caused the death of 35 people.

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