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2014 February 26 - March 4 [CIVIL RIGHTS]

Metropolitan museum demands removal of ‘political’ work

March 2, 2014

Akahata Sunday Edition

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum urged an artist in February to remove his work from the display because of its “political message”, causing repercussions.

The work is a cardboard dome-shape object made by sculptor Nakagaki Katsuhisa. The object is adorned with a lot of newspaper clippings about the forcibly-enacted state secrets protection law and a conspiracy crime act which the Abe government is aiming to establish. The Rising Sun flag (Japan’s national flag) is placed on the top and the Stars and Stripes peeps out from a crack in the dome.

The museum’s deputy curator demanded on February 16 that Nakagaki remove his work from the exhibition hall, saying, “It directly sends out a political message.” Nakagaki rejected the demand, but as a result of negotiations, he agreed to remove a sheet of paper from the object. On the sheet were written some words, such as “protect the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution”, “(Prime Minister Abe) should recognize the folly of his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine”, and “block the current regime’s move towards the right”.

“When I asked the vice-curator which part of my work is unacceptable, she just replied, ‘everything’. I believe that various opinions and expressions should be respected in a democratic society,” Nakagaki said.

Sakaguchi Shojiro, a professor of constitutional law at the graduate school of Hitotsubashi University, said, “If a work of art is not allowed to be on display because it has some kind of political message, it will degrade art itself into a ‘servant’ of political power.”

The museum’s withdrawal request is based on the managerial regulations of the metropolitan government. The rules provide that authorities can refuse to display works when they are thought to serve specific political or religious agendas.

Two years ago, when a visitor complained to the facility about a Korean artist’s work on the theme of Japan’s wartime sex slavery (comfort women) issue, they removed the work on the pretext that it contravenes the museum’s operating rules.

Arai Hiroyuki, an art critic, condemned the museum’s action at the time by saying, “The comfort women issue is a historical fact and has nothing to do with specific political or religious thought.”

Can a facility exhibiting only “neutral” works with no messages really be called an “art museum”?
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