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Japan's Porn Law is Strangling Artists

Written by Keiko Tanaka On 18 February 2013 @ 21:28 pm | 1 Comment

In Arts & Culture, Citizen Media, East Asia, English, Freedom of Speech, Gay Rights (LGBT), Human Rights, Japan, Japanese, Photography, Protest, Singapore, Weblog, Women & Gender, Youth

Fashion photographer Leslie Kee [1], who has worked with pop stars Beyonce [2]and Lady Gaga [3], was arrested for selling obscene images [4] at his latest exhibition in Roppongi, Tokyo on February 4, 2013. Under Japanese law, all images of genitalia must be blurred [5], so Kee's work which featured nudity was effectively breaking the law. 

Michelangelo's David photo modified by Keiko from wikimedia commons by Silmaril

Michelangelo's David photo modified by Keiko from wikimedia commons [6] uploaded by user Silmaril, (CC BY SA 3.0)

On February 7, the case was dropped [7], but his arrest has stirred a debate about artistic expression and Japan's broad porn law. Officially known as Article 175  [8]of Japan’s Penal Code, the law prohibits the distribution, sale, or public display of all obscene materials.

Tokyo-based Kee is also known for his homoerotic work. Writer and journalist @quitamarco writes on Twitter [9][ja]:

【拡散希望】レスリー・キー逮捕に抗議します。彼の表現行為がもたらしたLGBTの解放を、ポルノだとか猥褻だとかの尾籠な劣情を持ち込んで卑小化するのは、まったくの本末転倒の倒錯であると考えます。

<please amplify this> I protest the arrest of Leslie Kee. His artistic expression brought liberation of LGBT. Degrading his work by calling it “porn” or “obscene” with indelicate lust is illogical and fails to properly value his work.

Another user @WildcatBooko pointed out [10] [ja] that by arresting Leslie the police intervened in personal expression:

@quitamarco  横レス失礼。今回のレスリーの写真集はあくまで私費出版として出されてるわけで、マスメディアの場で「猥褻な」写真を公表したわけではないはずです。今回の措置は、いわば私的な領域における表現の規制なわけで、そこに何とも言えないおぞましいものを感じます。

@quitamarco If I may add my comment, I would say this case is serious because Leslie did not sell the “obscene” photo in public. He published the photo book at his own expense privately. This is a horrifying case to me for it can be considered regulation of expression in the personal domain.

Besides Lee's work, an exhibition by leading Japanese contemporary [11] artist Makoto Aida [12] in Tokyo has been met with protest. His work is known for being erotic and controversial.

On January 25, 2013, the People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence (PAPS) [13] [ja] published a letter of protest [14] [en] against the Mori Art Museum [15] where the exhibition is taking place:

These works are child pornography. They are equivalent to child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. [...]

the ‘Dog’ series treats women and girls as less than human, as sexual playthings and sexual animals.[...] The exhibition is an example of discrimination and contempt for amputees and other people with disabilities.[...]

In its position as a respected public institution, the Mori Art Museum sends a strong message through hosting the current exhibition. [...] The Museum’s hosting of the exhibition actively makes discrimination and violence normal, and actively promotes the sexual exploitation of girls, violence against women, and discrimination and contempt for people with a disabilities.

A voluntary organization called the Institute of Contents Culture [16] [ja] which studies freedom of expression in Japan made an official statement [17][ja] about the Makoto Aida exhibition controversy:

芸術作品に限らず、多くの表現や意見を楽しむことができるのは、表現の自由を保証する健全な社会があるからです。芸術家・会田誠氏の作品に対する批判がなされること、議論が巻き起こることは、私たちの社会が表現の自由が機能する健全なものである証左であり、そのことは歓迎すべきです。

しかし、今回の作品撤去要請は、他者が会田誠氏の作品を見て、考える機会、それ自体を奪おうとするものであり、議論を形成する機会をも奪おうとするものです。

表現の自由は、特定人の具体的な権利、人権を侵害しない限りは、最大限に保障されるべきであり、表現を見て、各人が自由に考え、批判を含め議論、討議する権利は守られなければなりません。

私たちは市民として、クリエイターとして「森美術館からの会田誠氏の作品撤去要請」に反対します。

We live in a healthy society that guarantees freedom of expression and that is exactly why we can enjoy not only art work but also diverse opinions and expressions.The fact that there's criticism against the works of artist Makoto Aida is the very proof that our society is the one where  freedom of expression exists and it should be welcomed.

However, the request to remove his work, takes away all opportunities to discuss and to think by seeing his work.

Freedom of expression must be guaranteed fully unless it violates particular rights of particular people, and by seeing the expression, the rights to discuss and criticize with each person thinking freely must be guaranteed.

As a creator and as a citizen, we object to the request to remove Makoto Aida's art at Mori Art Museum.

Some feel this is not just about freedom of expression. Referring to the cancellation of [18]Ahn Se-Hong [18]‘s photo exhibit about comfort women in May 2012 Korean descendant @rinda0818 commented [19] [ja] :

会田誠展とニコンの安世鴻展、表現の自由とかで同じように語られてるけど本当にそうなのかな。人権がちゃんと守られてないこの国で、表現の自由は時々暴力になるんだけど。前者は作品、後者は抗議に対してそう思う。で、何となく違和感。

The narratives of controversies over exhibition of Aida Makoto and that of Ahn Se-Hong both fall into a category of freedom of expression, but is it really the case? In a country where [basic] human rights is not protected, freedom of expression can sometimes turn violent.  For the former, art works are violence and for the latter, protest against exhibition is violence. I feel something is wrong.

Under Japanese law pictures of genitalia must be censored or blurred, which has given rise to its own genre of pornography. By Flickr user eliazar. (CC BY 2.0) [20]

Porn magazines with blurred images at a convenient store in Japan, by Flickr user eliazar. (CC BY 2.0)

Another tweet by user @tatangarani [21][ja] referred to both cases of Makoto and Leslie and said that Japan's regulations are taking the wrong direction:

会田誠もレスリーも。クローズドな場所で売ってる芸術作品やアートをグロだ、エロだと取り締まるなら、子供の手が届く範囲でオープンに売られてるコンビニに山とあふれるヘアヌード掲載週刊誌はアリなの?パレンタルロックの存在も仕様も知らない親が、子どもに与えるPCはアリなの?根本間違ってる。

If Makoto Aida and Leslie's art, which were sold at closed venues are being regulated for being offensive and nasty, why are piles of weekly magazines with naked photographs available at convenient stores. Why is it okay for parents to give computers to children when the parents do not even know what a parental lock is? These are fundamental mistakes!

proof-reading by Sahar Habib Ghazi [22]

Article printed from Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org

URL to article: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/02/18/japans-porn-law-is-strangling-artists/

URLs in this post:

[1] Leslie Kee: http://www.lesliekeesuper.com/

[2] Beyonce : http://www.beyonce.com/

[3] Lady Gaga: http://www.ladygaga.com/

[4] arrested for selling obscene images: http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/renowned-photographer-leslie-kee-arrested-in-japan-for-alleged-obscenity

[5] images of genitalia must be blurred: http://www.tokyoreporter.com/2013/02/05/tokyo-cops-bust-roppongi-gallery-arrest-photographer-leslie-kee-for-obscenity/

[6] wikimedia commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:David_von_Michelangelo.jpg

[7] the case was dropped: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/02/08/national/tokyo-based-singapore-photographer-arrested-for-nude-male-photos-freed/#.UR5h7R17I08

[8] Article 175 : http://www.tokyoreporter.com/2012/11/22/mccartneys-great-wall-of-vagina-deemed-obscene-by-tokyo-police/

[9] writes on Twitter : https://twitter.com/quitamarco/status/298394143552573440

[10] pointed out: https://twitter.com/WildcatBooko/status/298416838700838912

[11] leading Japanese contemporary: http://www.mori.art.museum/english/contents/aidamakoto_main/about/index.html

[12] Makoto Aida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makoto_Aida

[13] People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence (PAPS): http://paps-jp.org/

[14] a letter of protest: http://paps-jp.org/action/mori-art-museum/statement-english/

[15] Mori Art Museum: http://www.mori.art.museum/contents/aidamakoto_main/about/index.html

[16] Institute of Contents Culture: https://twitter.com/iccjapan

[17] made an official statement : http://icc-japan.blogspot.jp/2013/02/blog-post.html

[18] the cancellation of : http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/06/27/japan-korean-comfort-women-photo-exhibit-sabotaged/

[19] commented: https://twitter.com/rinda0818/status/298272058125737984

[20] Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eliazar/3151180856/sizes/m/

[21] Another tweet by user @tatangarani : https://twitter.com/tatangarani/status/298413269079691265

[22] Sahar Habib Ghazi: http://globalvoicesonline.org/author/sahar-habib-ghazi/

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