Comments on the Reply received from the Mori Art Museum
We, the People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence group, sent a protest letter to the director of the Mori Art Museum, Fumio Nanjou, on 25 January 2013. Our letter objected to the sexual violence and discrimination of the art works in the ‘Aida Makoto: Sorry for being a genius’ exhibition, which includes the ‘Dog’ series. We received a reply from Nanjou on 5 February 2013, but this reply addresses none of the concerns we raised in our original letter of protest.
Our letter of protest firstly noted the abusive child pornographic works that are being exhibited by the Mori Art Museum as part of the Aida exhibition, including the ‘Dog’ series. However, the reply from Nanjou gives no indication as to whether or not the Museum agrees with this assessment of the works.
Commentators on the internet responding to our protest letter make the claim that Japan’s child pornography law does not cover graphically depicted representations, and so the paintings in the Aida exhibition would not be the subject of prosecution, and so do not constitute child pornography. However, we believe this legalistic approach is a fundamental distortion of the problem at hand. The word ‘pornography’ is understood in its everyday usage to include a wide range of representations, and not just those filmed live. Our protest letter conceded the fact that graphic representations are not covered under Japan’s child pornography law, but noted that some of the works in the exhibition nonetheless comprised examples of abusive child pornography. We criticized the Museum for failing to recognizing this fact, and for endorsing such works as examples of ‘genius’, and widely promoting and exhibiting them. We received no response from the Museum in relation to these criticisms.
Our protest letter secondly criticized the exhibition, including the ‘Dog’ series, for depicting women ‘in the most exposed, violent, and sexually servile way possible’, and for treating ‘women and girls as less than human, as sexual playthings and sexed animals’. We noted that the paintings ‘graphically depict a form of sexual violence, and comprise a gross act of sexual discrimination that significantly injures the dignity of all women’. We received no response from the Museum in relation to these criticisms.
The Museum in its reply makes the claim that contemporary art responds ‘to various problems of modern society through experimenting, criticising, and provoking them’, and therefore the museum ‘seeks to introduce these new artistic responses to as wide an audience as possible’. In relation to the Aida exhibition specifically, the museum claims that the works are ‘unique and unconventional’, with much ‘humour and prescience’. However, it is our view that the works—including the ‘Dog’ series—address the ‘problems of modern society’ with no critical analysis whatsoever; on the contrary, the approach of these works perpetuates the historical and contemporary treatment of women as sexual subordinates, and in fact strengthens this treatment. The representations of women in the Aida works are fundamentally indistinguishable from the sexual violence depicted in the volumes of hardcore pornography and brutally pornography manga comic books that are endlessly produced in Japan. The works appear to offer no ‘unique’ or ‘unconventional’ appraisal of violence against women, nor do they contain any ‘humour’ or particular insight. The depictions of girls in the Aida exhibition as naked smiling dogs with severed limbs, or as sliced pieces of meat for frying, are female representations commonly seen in Japanese manga comics.
Our letter of protest to the Mori Art Museum thirdly made the point that some of the works constitute ‘discrimination and contempt’ toward people with a disability. The reply we received was completely silent on this point.
The Museum’s reply downplayed our criticisms of the sexual discrimination and violence of the works, and rendered them in overly generalized terms as ‘many different opinions’ and the exhibition as merely a‘range of expression and ideas… presented through the medium of art’. Nanjou also represented his Museum as simply comprising a ‘space for public expression’. These kinds of universalising statements are unhelpful in our bilateral discussion of the issue. Our letter of protest did not generalize in this way; rather, it made the very specific criticism that the Mori Art Museum should not endorse art works that promote the serious problems of discrimination and sexual violence that are currently ubiquitous in our society. We questioned the social responsibility of the Museum in its decision to uncritically promote and host these art works, especially when it occupies a position of public authority in Japanese society. We received no response from the Museum in relation to these criticisms.
The fifth criticism we made in our original protest letter related to the legality of the exhibition and its arranged public showing. We received no response from the Museum in relation to these concerns. We acknowledge that our claim in our letter that the “The Great Member Fuji versus King Gidora” painting in which a young woman is penetrated by a monster was on display outside the ‘over-18’ room was incorrect. We apologise for this misstatement. However, this does not alter the fact that a number of works depicting the subordination of women and girls, and violence against them, are being shown to the public without any age restriction. For example, the picture book of the exhibition titled ‘Aida Makoto: Sorry for being a genius’, which includes the ‘Dog’ series, is being offered for sale to visitors without restricted viewing.
In the last paragraph of your reply to our protest letter, you claimed that you “value the exchange of many different opinions about the works”, and that “the ability of individuals to express and present freely a range of opinions is a positive aspect of Japanese society” Further, you noted that you have “a continuing commitment to exhibiting contemporary works that present a range of opinions to a broad public audience, and continuing to be a hub of public debate and discussion in Japan”.
We note your strong commitment to “the exchange of many different opinions”, but also observe that your letter of reply makes absolutely no attempt to engage with the “different opinions” that we raise in this instance. Considering your lack of response, we wonder whether the Mori Art Museum really is delivering on its commitment to being “a hub of public debate and discussion in Japan”. We see the stance of the Museum as socially irresponsible in its tact to exhibit artworks of sexual discrimination and violence, and then allow others to “debate” the works as if the Museum itself has no involvement in the matter.
Furthermore, in our original protest letter we requested a meeting with Museum staff to discuss this issue, to which we received no response. We feel that the Museum’s stated commitment to being a ‘hub of public debate and discussion in Japan’ necessitates an active response to our request for face-to-face discussion. The fact that your reply letter contained no direct response to the concerns we raised makes us even more interested in a meeting to directly hear your views. We therefore request a meeting with you by, at the latest, the middle of February 2013. We look forward to your positive response to this request.