Museum, artist in row over 'political'works

Artist Makoto Aida with his calligraphy work that mildly mocks Japan's education ministry.
Artist Makoto Aida with his calligraphy work that mildly mocks Japan's education ministry.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • One of Japan's best-known artists is locked in a fight with a public museum over claims that it threatened to pull the plug on works by him that are critical of the conservative government.

Mr Makoto Aida said the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo had told him to remove pieces from an exhibition that opened last week because they were "not suitable" for children.

However, the museum countered by saying that it had asked him just to "modify" his creations.

"I was told that the works were not appropriate and that they wanted me to remove them," Mr Aida said, adding that the demand followed a complaint from a visitor and was also at the request of the Tokyo city government.

One piece, a video installation, appears to mock Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose popularity has dived as Parliament debates controversial legislation aimed at expanding the scope of Japan's military, which is currently limited to a narrowly defensive role.

The legislation, which Mr Abe says is necessary to counter rising regional tensions, has sparked rare protests.

Mr Aida's video depicts the artist pretending to be Mr Abe making a speech in broken English, while a large calligraphy work mildly mocking the education ministry hangs nearby.

Mr Aida said the calligraphy work was meant to be humorous, "not political".

The video - which says he is playing the role of "a man calling himself Japan's prime minister" - offers a "sincere apology" to people in China, South Korea and other Asian countries that suffered from Japan's imperial expansion in the first half of the 20th century.

Mr Abe has been accused of taking a revisionist view on Japan's warring past, framing the country as more victim than aggressor.

"We began imitating other powerful countries, we colonised those weaker nations surrounding us, and we began wars of aggression," the artist says in the video transcript. "There were a great many people whom we insulted, and we wounded and we killed... I am sorry!!!!"

A museum spokesman said Mr Aida had been asked to "modify" his works for the child-focused exhibition, without elaborating.

"We asked him if he could make them more approachable to children," she said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'Museum, artist in row over 'political'works'. Print Edition | Subscribe