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Exhibition featuring controversial 'comfort women' statue barred from Osaka venue

L-Osaka, the venue that had been set to host Non-Freedom of Expression Exhibition Kansai, is seen in Chuo Ward, Osaka, on June 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

OSAKA -- An exhibition set to open in this west Japan city in July and show controversial artworks including a statue of a girl representing wartime "comfort women" that was withdrawn from a 2019 arts festival has had its permission to use a prefecture-run venue rescinded.

    The move by the venue's managers, dated June 25, came amid sustained opposition since organizers announced mid-June they would host the event. The managers reportedly judged that the safety of people using the facility could not be guaranteed, and after they consulted with the Osaka Prefectural Government, it approved their decision.

    The event, titled, "Non-Freedom of Expression Exhibition Kansai" had been scheduled to run from July 16 to 18 at the prefectural labor center L-Osaka, in Osaka's Chuo Ward. It was supposed to feature some of the artworks shown in the exhibition "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" from the international arts festival Aichi Triennale 2019. An executive committee composed of volunteers had been preparing for the latest event.

    Company L. Project, a general incorporated association formed by the Osaka labor association and other parties, oversees and runs L-Osaka based on the prefectural government's designated administration system.

    According to the venue's managers, between June 15, when the executive committee announced on social media that they would hold the exhibition, and June 25, L-Osaka received around 70 phone calls and protest emails. Protests against the event have also reportedly been held at loud volumes in the area around the venue.

    For this reason, the venue administrators decided that, in accordance with a prefectural government ordinance ruling on how to use venues and other considerations, facility management could be obstructed, thereby allowing for the withdrawal of permission to use it.

    The prefectural government has confirmed that the right to allow or deny usage as described in the ordinance lies with the designated administrator.

    An official at the Osaka Prefectural Government's labor environment section said, "The question as to whether the venue could ultimately be used safely was one we answered in light of the ordinance."

    An official at the association said, "Opposition came flooding in, making it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of users and staff. If the planned exhibition went ahead, protests and other actions could affect bystanders, and we decided there was a high chance we would not be able to guarantee their safety. The exhibition's content itself was not a factor in our decision to rescind approval to use the facility."

    (Japanese original by Masaki Ishikawa, Sachiko Miyakawa and Ryo Chatani, Osaka City News Department)

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