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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 June 21 - 27  > Art work praying for wartime Korean victims removed from Gunma museum against artist’s will
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2017 June 21 - 27 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Art work praying for wartime Korean victims removed from Gunma museum against artist’s will

June 23, 2017
The Museum of Modern Art in Gunma has removed from its special exhibition an art work whose motif is a monument remembering Korean forced laborers during WWII. The removal has elicited a lot of criticism.

Artist Shirakawa Yoshio, 69, set up the work in the gallery before April 22, the opening day of the exhibition. Just one day before the opening, however, the museum asked him to remove the work on the grounds that it deals with an ongoing court case. Shirakawa had to remove it the next day.

The motif he used was a memorial monument built in 2004 in a prefecture-owned park. All political parties and groups in the Gunma Prefectural Assembly at that time endorsed the installation of this cenotaph.

However, in 2014, the prefectural government decided to not renew the installation permit after the assembly approved a petition, which was submitted by some ultra nationalist organizations demanding the withdrawal of the monument, with the majority vote of the Liberal Democratic Party and other political groups. In response to the removal decision, citizens calling for the monument to be kept in the park filed a lawsuit with the Maebashi District Court. The case is still pending.

The work Shirakawa produced is a set of sculptures which were designed to resemble the monument and covered by sheets. He said, “It represents memories being covered up.”

The International Association of Art Critics, Japanese Section (AICA Japan) in May issued a protest statement criticizing the prefecture’s measure as pre-censorship and claiming that it violates the right to freedom of expression and deprives citizens of opportunities to directly appreciate works of art.

Japanese Communist Party member of the Gunma Prefectural Assembly Sakai Hiroaki stated, “The prefectural museum by asking the creator to remove the work has given in to the pressure applied by the rightwing group demanding the removal of the monument from the park.”

Sawayama Ryo, an AICA Japan standing committee member, said, “Public facilities such as galleries and museums provide venues for people with different perspectives to come and engage in various lively discussions. To rob citizens of the potential to present their opinions will lead to a denial of public space.”

Sawayama also said, “Public museums should be institutions independent of the administrative structure. This time, the museum probably gave in to political considerations, but it was actually the type of censorship prohibited under the Constitution.”

Sawayama went on to say, “In the future of the art world, the difference between censorship and self-regulation will become vague with administrative institutions exerting unfounded pressure. I fear that similar cases may increase. I’m very much concerned about the spread of an atmosphere where people must voluntarily refrain from talking about politics and criticizing the government.”

Sawayama concluded, “The right to ‘freedom of expression’ not only protects artists and our rights but also provides us the opportunity to engage in activities to discuss and comment on art works. The AICA Japan believes that it is important to defend artistic creativity so that we can freely evaluate art works.”

Past related article:
> Metropolitan museum demands removal of ‘political’ work [March 2, 2014]
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