August 7, 2019
International Association of Art Critics, Japan
Fumio Nanjo, President
The International Association of Art Critics, Japan, is deeply concerned about the highly abnormal situation at the Aichi Triennale 2019, in which the After “Freedom of Expression?” section was cancelled just three days after opening, on the basis of anonymous intimidation and threats of violence as well as in response to a request from Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura that seems to have echoed them. We are deeply concerned about the impact this will have in the future.
Of course, in our society, the suppression of expressive activities by violence and threats is absolutely unacceptable. Although it is the role of local authorities, including the police, to protect citizens’ activities from violent acts, giving in to violent demands for the closure of the exhibition on the grounds of protecting citizens from that violence is the problematic issue at the heart of the current situation.
Democracy is a system that requires government to demonstrate respect and trust in the ability of each individual citizen to exercise their judgement and express their opinions, and through this citizens’ reciprocal trust in the state and in government is built. By abandoning this relationship of trust, the government itself reveals this nation to be a dangerous one dominated by fear and led by violence.
This current incident indicates that a fundamental principle of democracy, freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 21 of our Constitution, has been obstructed. How can we secure the legitimacy and justification of our government and our political system if, as now, we submit to demands backed by violence and fear?
In the first place, public support for arts and cultural projects by public organizations must guarantee the spirit of the constitution rooted in democracy, and guarantee a diversity of voices and views. Respecting criticism of the state as one view without taking away opportunities to deepen consideration and discussion of that view is precisely one of the principles of public support for culture.
The removal or concealing of works by authorities is a denial of the public’s ability to independently determine its meaning, which means depriving citizens of their right to judge and appreciate for themselves. It means that even the healthy curiosity of citizens who want to learn and understand more is stifled. It is impossible to expect a healthy culture to thrive under such conditions.
In connection with this incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that he will review government grants for cultural initiatives. This suggests the possibility of discontinuing public support for projects which include "opinions or expressions inconvenient to government policy,” which is an indirect threat to grant applicants. To reiterate, guaranteeing opportunities for expression does not necessarily mean that one has to sanction the content of that expression. It is about guaranteeing the opportunity for each individual citizen to look, feel, and think for themselves. It means allowing them to know that a variety of expressions and opinions exist, and giving them the opportunity to participate in these exchanges.
If we accept this latest incident, it will inevitably lead to the atrophy of not just Aichi Triennale 2019 but all expressive activity going forward. It will become impossible to hope for the sound development of expression in Japan, and eventually public trust in the will of government entities to protect the diversity of citizen activities in this nation will surely be undermined. This incident has already been widely reported overseas, and international trust in the entirety of the rich cultural activities that originate in Japan has been damaged.
For these reasons, the International Association of Art Critics, Japan, observes the developments at the Aichi Triennale 2019 with great concern. We hope that proper social conditions can be created in Japan in which all the works originally displayed at the opening of this international contemporary art exhibition could be freely shown again.