Women have thrown down a challenge to one of Japan’s most famous and successful artists – the photographer, Nobuyoshi Araki.
Araki’s work is well known around the world: he’s staged major exhibitions at the Barbican in London, the Guimet Museum in Paris and his work is currently on display at a gallery called CO in Berlin.
As usual, alongside pictures of flowers and Tokyo streetlife, the exhibition includes images of naked women, including some who are restrained by ropes, in S&M style poses.
Angry Asian Girls
A group who call themselves the Angry Asian Girls Association staged a protest in Berlin this week. They held up signs reading “Are you sure your knowledge is correct?” and on Facebook alleged that Araki “has gained fame and reputation by exploiting female models.”
They say: “Women do not exist to be the mere tools to build the reputation of male artists. We demand changes in the art industry’s structure, which only wants to limit women to be the muse to inspire male artists. We demand changes. Be angry with us, and let’s take an action together.”
The website Frieze Art explains that Araki was accused by his long-time model Kaori in April of several instances of exploitation and mistreatment during their working relationship. The website says that Kaori did not accuse the photographer of sexual assault but did allege emotional bullying, saying that “he treated me like an object.”
This is a point which the Angry Asian Girls Association highlight in their Facebook post, linking the allegations of exploitation to the Me Two movement through which women have highlighted occasions when females have been exploited or abused by men, including many powerful public figures.
The Japanese also have a long tradition of erotic art – some with a tendency towards extremism – and this might affect they way they regard Araki’s pictures.
I have visited his exhibitions several times and have often wondered what impact they have on non-Japanese audiences. Do they reinforce stereotypes in which Asian women are seen as the compliant playthings of men?
The Korean link
It’s hard to get much information about the Angry Asian Girls Association although I note that their webpost appears in English, German and Korean – but not in Japanese.
And that reminds me of a conversation I had with some South Korean professors earlier this year, who explained to me that the resentment in their country against Japan is based on the exploitation of women.
In particular, it’s widely felt that Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea about eighty years ago forced local women into sex.
The professors explained that the rise of the Me Too movement and a heightened awareness of feminist issues has encouraged Korean women to try to shame the Japanese into apologising.
Within Japan, there are mixed feelings on that issue but I think many people would sympathise with the stated aim of the Angry Asian Girls who say that they “dream of a world where the dignity of every individual is respected.”