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Comfort Woman Sculpture In Japan Goes Back On Display Despite Protests

The controversial survey “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’”, featuring a sculpture of comfort women in imperialistic Japan goes to view again next week.

The survey explores the ‘comfort woman’ – women abducted from Korea and other south-east Asian counties by the Japanese army during World War II. These women served as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers during the war. It is one of the most scandalous events in the history of Imperial Japan, and subject to revisionism and censorship in recent decades.

The survey first went on view during the Aichi Triennale in 2019. However, merely three days after it became public, the survey started facing protests. In particular, a sculpture of a seated comfort woman – Statue of a Girl of Peace by Korean artists Kim Seo-Kyung and Kim Eun-sung – became the target of fierce criticism. Both local authorities and the general public criticized the survey, and even threats of vandalism were sent to the gallery. Due to this, Daisuke Tsuda (artistic director of the exhibition) cancelled the survey.

The cancellation of the survey drew protests from artists both within the survey and globally. Despite the demands of re-staging the survey with security measures, nothing happened. In 2021 a re-staging of the survey in Tokyo was attempted but again cancelled due to right-wing protests.

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Last week, the team behind “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” announced that the entire survey will again be re-stage, along with a few more additions. The event, scheduled to happen in a public gallery in Tokyo between April 2 and 5, has found more than 200 volunteers willing to ensure security. Sadaaki Iwasaki (representative of the committee) said: “[the event will] provide an opportunity to think freely about topics such as the Imperial system, colonial rule, the Japanese military’s ‘comfort women,’ and nuclear power issues at a time when people are forced into silence in various forms of expression.”