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'After "Freedom of Expression?"' exhibit to resume at Nagoya int'l art festival

Organizers of the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit announce that they have agreed to resume their exhibit at the Aichi Triennale 2019, during a press conference in Nagoya's Naka Ward on Sept. 30, 2019. (Mainichi/Shinichiro Kawase)

NAGOYA -- An art exhibit on the theme of censorship hosted at an international arts festival here that had been canceled following a request by a politician and a terrorist threat is set to resume.

"I'd give the outcome an 88 (out of a 100)," said an organizer of the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit that had been on display at the Aichi Triennale 2019 before it was canceled on its third day. "We're glad we stuck to our guns and didn't give up."

The organizers had objected to the prefectural government and the Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee's handling of the issue, and had insisted that the exhibit be allowed to resume in its original form. The Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee chief, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, conceded to the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" organizers' demand, leading to the settlement.

The organizers of the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" event claimed that with the cancellation of their exhibit, their freedom of expression had been violated, and on Sept. 13 filed a provisional disposition seeking a resumption of the exhibit. On Sept. 25, an Aichi prefectural investigative committee headed by Toshio Yamanashi, the director of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, recommended that the exhibit be resumed as soon as conditions are met, such as improvements in how the works are displayed. To the requirement that "conditions be met," the exhibit's organizing committee responded with allegations of censorship.

At the second court hearing that took place Sept. 27, the two sides remained unable to reach an agreement.

On the morning of Sept. 30, before the third hearing was set to take place, Gov. Omura held an emergency press hearing. He set forth four conditions for the resumption of the exhibit: cooperation on both sides regarding security, viewing by reservation only, addition of an "education program," and communication of the contents of the prefectural investigative committee's midterm report to the exhibit's visitors. But he also said that the exhibit would basically be allowed to resume in its original form.

The prefecture's investigative committee criticized the original exhibit as lacking careful commentary and appropriate display methods. In response, Gov. Omura set "communicating the contents of the prefectural investigative committee's midterm report to the exhibit's visitors in advance" as one of the four conditions, but shelved any interference in the way that the artworks are displayed. Organizers of the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit continued to object to the contents of the midterm report, but said they were not concerned with anything the prefecture did outside the venue of the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit, effectively giving their tacit approval.

The quick turn of events can be traced to the prefectural government's desire to end the deadlock before the international art festival ends on Oct. 14. The prefectural government had planned to host an international forum on Oct. 5 and 6 with the participation of artists whose works were being shown in the triennale, and adopt the "Aichi Protocol" regarding freedom of expression. However, such a protocol would lack persuasiveness if the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit had remained canceled.

Moreover, there had been moves among artists to take down their artworks from the festival in objection to the exhibit's cancellation if the prospects of the exhibit resuming were not clear by Oct. 5. Thirteen individual or groups of artists outside the "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit had already withdrawn or changed their works, and if any more dropped out, it was possible that the event would have a hard time keeping up appearances as an international art festival.

Gov. Omura admitted that he had been in a rush to reach an agreement with "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" exhibit organizers. "According to the artists, (asking for changes in display methods) constituted censorship," he said. "They were adamant about it. We had no time, so we made a compromise."

Meanwhile, an "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" organizer said, "We want to cut through the overarching sense of censorship that envelopes Japan."

The organizers and the prefectural government have yet to reach an agreement on the specifics of each condition, however. Gov. Omura explained, "We want to pursue further consultations with the ("After 'Freedom of Expression?'") organizers in detail and in good faith about the conditions and how the exhibit will be operated."

(Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase and Naoto Takeda, Nagoya News Center)

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