“Kimono Wednesdays” sounds more like an ill-advised sorority ritual than sanctioned museum programming. And yet, this month, at the MFA Boston, museumgoers lined up to touch and try on kimonos in front of Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise.”
It wasn’t long before protestors spoke out both on social media and on the museum grounds, dubbing the initiative to be culturally insensitive and racist. Critics pointed out that, even worse, the garments on display were actually uchikake, not kimonos. Insert forehead slap.
As a result of the outrage, the MFA swiftly canceled “Kimono Wednesdays,” which was scheduled to continue until July 29.
Originally imagined to accompany Monet’s “La Japonaise,” a painting of the artist’s wife Camille Doncieux posing with a fan and kimono, the program encouraged visitors to ”channel your inner Camille Monet” by posing in similar garb.
What’s strange is that Monet’s piece is often interpreted as a satirical response to the absurd, fetishistic craze of the Japanese aesthetic sweeping Paris around 1876, at the time of the work’s creation. Instead of sparking a dialogue around the problematic Orientalism of the time, it seems the MFA engaged in a little fetishism of its own.
In an extensive tumblr post from “Stand Against Yellow Face,” protestors elaborated on the many supremacist aspects of the work’s presentation. “What is the value of inviting the public to then dress up and participate in the very thing Monet was critiquing? Why not choose a print from the Hokusai exhibit to highlight the experience of Japanese women? Or why not provide a discussion on the historical context and criticality about the 1870’s obsession?”
Protestors who gathered in person held signs reading messages such as: “It’s not racist if you look cute & exotic in it besides the MFA supports this!”
“There is no education on the garment’s origin, history, uses, or importance in Japanese society at the time,” Stand Against Yellow Face explained on Facebook. “The act of non-Japanese museum staff throwing these kimonos on visitors as a ‘costume’ event is an insult not only to our identities, experiences, and histories as Asian-Americans in America, but affects how society as a whole continues to typecast and deny our voices today … A willingness to engage thoughtfully with museum employees and visitors on the bullshit of this white supremacist ‘costume’ event are [sic] welcome.”
Stand Against Yellow Face’s tumblr memorandum also elaborates on why the choice to exhibit traditional Japanese dress in this way, even if not meant to be offensive, is damaging and hurtful. “Orientalism exoticizes (read: others, demeans and obscures) many cultures including South Asian, East Asian and Middle Eastern traditions, and resulting aggressive attitudes (both micro and macro) towards Orientalized peoples persist to this day.”
On July 7, the MFA released a statement announcing a shift in programming, where visitors will be allowed to touch with and interact with the historically accurate kimonos on display, but not try them on.
As Katie Getchell, deputy director of the museum, told the Observer, the MFA thought “Kimono Wednesdays” would be a success in part due to the popularity of similar programs in Japanese museums including the Setagaya in Tokyo, The Kyoto Municipal Museum, and The Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, when “La Japonaise” was on loan.
In its July 7 statement, the museum apologized for offending any visitors. Despite this, protestor Aparna “Pampi” Das told the BBC that despite the MFA’s statement, protests will continue until the museum issues a formal apology and opens a panel including protestors to discuss the incident in public.
The MFA wrote in an email to the Huffington Post that the museum is not making any statements in relation to the protestor’s new demands.
See more Twitter reactions to the controversy as well as the full list of FAQs from Standing Against Yellow-Face below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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Arts – The Huffington Post
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