Twelve artists have called on the Aichi Triennale to remove their work from the show until works taken off view last week are reinstated. When the current edition of the triennale first opened to the public on August 1st, it included the exhibition “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?”, which featured artworks that had been previously censored in Japan. After three days, the exhibition itself was censored following official outcry, leading 72 artists in the show to sign a statement online demanding it be reopened.
Now some artists in the triennale want to go a step further, calling on the organizers to temporarily remove their works from view until “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” reopens. The letter is signed by Tania Bruguera, Javier Téllez, Regina José Galindo, Mónica Mayer, Pia Camil, Claudia Martínez Garay, Minouk Lim, Reynier Levya Novo, Park Chan-kyong, Dora García, and Ugo Rondinone, as well as artist Pedro Reyes, who served as a curator for this year’s triennale.
Members of the Japanese government decried “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” for its inclusion of a work depicting a “comfort woman,” a euphemism for women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The work in question—alternatively known as Statue of a Girl of Peace or simply Statue of Peace (2011)—was created by Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Spanish businessman Tatxo Benet bought the artwork and plans to display it in a “Freedom Museum” he is opening in Barcelona.
In the group letter, published in full by ARTnews, the artists wrote:
We consider it an ethical obligation to stand by the exhibiting artists voices and their work being exhibited. Freedom of expression is an unalienable right that needs to be defended independently of any context.
The group of artists singled out certain “attacks on freedom,” including statements from the mayor of Nagoya, the city where most of the triennale is held, calling for the closure of the exhibition, and a statement from Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga threatening to cut off future funding to the triennale. They also decried anonymous phone calls harassing the exhibition staff, and a fax threatening terrorist action unless the exhibition be closed. Police arrested a 59-year-old truck driver last Wednesday for allegedly faxing an arson threat to the triennale’s organizers.
Although the artists acknowledged the seriousness of the threats, they said the closure of the exhibition was nevertheless an act of censorship, not “risk management.”