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  • Su Lee

Intimidation to Silence Expression: Threats to Comfort Women Artwork

The exhibition "After 'Freedom of Expression'" opened on July 6 in citizen's Gallery Sakae, Nagoya. The purpose of the exhibition was to display controversial pieces of art and emphasize the importance of expression. Among many diverse pieces of art, the exhibition displayed the Statue of Peace, a video by Nobuyuki Ohura of a burning photo collage of former Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and a series of photographs taken by Ahn Se-hong of Korean Comfort Women in China.


On July 8, a suspicious package was delivered to the museum and the police was called. Although there was only a firecracker and the small explosion did not result in any casualties or property damage, the exhibition was temporarily closed for the safety of visitors. This tactic of intimidation and terror to prevent expression regarding controversial historical events in not new.




In 2019, Aichi Triennale in Nagoya, Japan's largest international art exhibition, also came under fire from Japanese right-wing groups. The exhibition was temporarily closed due to disturbances and threats. The 2021 Nagoya Exhibition was significant because it was the first time the Statue of Peace was unveiled in Japan since 2019.


Besides Japanese politicians silencing content about Comfort Women through censorship of textbooks and media, individual Japanese right-wing activists use vandalism and terror to halt attempts to spread awareness about Comfort Women.


The threat to "After 'Freedom of Expression'" was the very attack on expression the museum curators wanted to speak up against. This incident should not deter future artists and exhibitions to talk about controversial and painful historical, social, and political issues. The year and a half hiatus between the 2019 exhibition and the recent exhibition shows how threats breed hesitancy and how hesitancy breeds silence. It is important that artists to continue to courageously fight against the culture of censorship that the Japanese government has instilled in Japan.