Display of ‘comfort women’ artwork canceled in Japan

The city government of Ise, Mie Prefecture, has decided against displaying an artwork that features an image of a statue of a girl symbolizing “comfort women” at an ongoing exhibition, it was learned Thursday.

The city board of education, which hosts the art exhibition, said it has prioritized the safety of visitors and citizens, following controversy over the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival.

An exhibition held as part of the art festival in the central prefecture of Aichi was suspended two days after opening on Aug. 1 as a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women, shown at the event, drew a storm of protest.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

The artwork in question for the Ise art exhibition, which began Tuesday, is a B2-sized poster created by Toshihiko Hanai, a 64-year-old graphic designer and steering committee member of the event.

In the top left corner of the artwork is an image of a statue of a girl symbolizing Chinese comfort women. The poster is titled “Watashi wa Dare Desuka” (“Who Am I?”). Under the picture, the title is written in four languages, including English and Chinese.

The artwork features a red hand on a black background. In the middle of the hand is a stone.

According to the city’s board of education, Hanai’s artwork was delivered to the exhibition venue Oct. 20.

After discussions by the steering committee and with Ise Mayor Kenichi Suzuki, the board informed Hanai on Monday of its decision not to display his artwork.

Although he later concealed the comfort women image with ink, the board still refused the artwork.

“I didn’t think this would happen, and I’m very unhappy about the decision,” Hanai said. “Censorship violates the Constitution.”

The decision could deter young people from expressing themselves, he added, hinting at a lawsuit against the city government.

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