Museum of Fine Arts Boston Cancels Kimono Dress-Up Event After Being Accused of Racism

Future kimono dress-up events have been canceled after accusations of exoticism.

"Channel your inner Camille #Monet and try on a replica of the kimono she's wearing in 'La Japonaise.'"
Photo Museum of Fine Arts Boston, via Facebook.

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has apologized for and discontinued an ill-advised program that gave rise to demonstrations and was deemed culturally insensitive.

The museum had staged a recurring in-gallery event in which museumgoers dressed up in kimonos, inspired by a Claude Monet canvas depicting his wife in a similar robe.

Many observers found the whole affair an exercise in Orientalism and exoticism.

Kimonos based on the robe in the Monet painting will be available for visitors to handle, but not to wear. The museum will also increase the frequency of talks by educators about the painting and its context as a way to “engage in culturally sensitive discourse.”

The museum notably fails to avoid a bit of defensiveness, pointing out that when the painting traveled in Japan, visitors could try on a replica kimono.

Following is the museum’s statement:

The MFA’s mission is to engage people with direct encounters with works of art, and to be an inclusive and welcoming place for all. When the MFA’s painting, La Japonaise by Claude Monet, travelled throughout Japan for an exhibition, historically accurate reproduction kimonos were made for visitors to try on. When the painting returned to Boston and a similar program was introduced at the MFA, we heard concerns from some members of our community, and as a result, we’ve decided to change our programming. The kimonos will now be on display in the Impressionist gallery every Wednesday evening in July for visitors to touch and engage with, but not to try on. This allows the MFA to continue to achieve the program’s goal of offering an interactive experience with the kimonos—understanding their weight and size, and appreciating the embroidery, material, and narrative composition. We will also increase the number of Spotlight Talks presented by MFA educators, to take place every Wednesday evening in July in conjunction with the display of the kimonos. The talks provide context on French Impressionism, “japonisme,” and the historical background of the painting, as well as an opportunity to engage in culturally sensitive discourse. We apologize for offending any visitors, and welcome everyone to participate in these programs on Wednesday evenings, when Museum admission is free. We look forward to continuing the Museum’s long-standing dialogue about the art, culture and influence of Japan.

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