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Monet’s La Japonaise, the painting inspiring Boston MFA’s “Kimono Wednesdays”

When I heard that the Boston MFA was launching a dress-up social media campaign called “Kimono Wednesdays” based on a painting by Claude Monet, that a group of young Asian American protesters asked them to stop, that the MFA did and apologized, I thought it was an open and shut case.

Then I read a piece in Hyperallergic criticizing the thinking and tactics of the protesters, and realized there was fierce disagreement over the protests and their political context. I see these protests through my research into Asian diasporic histories and my lived experience as an Asian person in this country, and would like to offer a different interpretation.

Here, as I see it, are the core issues:

1.

Anyone has the right to don a kimono, but people of the Asian diaspora have the right to interrogate what that means within a social context, weigh that against our lived experiences, and find it inappropriate. In this situation, a large American arts institution encouraged people to don a kimono modeled after a painting by a European male artist and spread those images in order to generate publicity for the museum. The protesters decided that this was not cultural exchange, but the exotification of an object for publicity.

Someone who doesn’t embody an experience does not get to tell those who do when, how, or why to protest. Men don’t get to tell women when something falls under misogyny. Cis people do not determine what is transphobic, or how to speak on transphobia. It is the job of those outside that experience to listen.

Katy Perry at the 2013 American Music Awards, another example of wearing a kimono for publicity and sensation. (via AMA)

2.

The Boston MFA, Monet, and the people and ideologies who support them do not need their voices amplified. Monet is in no danger of being stricken from the Western canon, and the Boston MFA, with over a million annual visitors and $100 million annual operating budget, is doing just fine.

What needs amplification, in this situation, are the historical and contemporary voices of people of the Asian diaspora, as survivors of several centuries of American and European imperialism, forced migrations, labor exploitation, and genocidal warfare. We are not being “sensitive” here. We are fighting for our image, because the circulation of images is often linked to our survival.

When the US government forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps during World War II, it was very much under the logic that they were not full citizens and humans, but perpetual others. The way people were coded as Japanese, as alien, was visual: LIFE magazine published an infamous article “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese” with images. Pro-US military propaganda posters deeply exaggerated the features of Japanese to be alien, sinister. When we ask white people to give us back control of our image, and the markers of race, we are struggling for our livelihoods.

3.

Another way to understand this protest is within the language of trauma. If you are Asian in America, you are told that Emma Stone gets to play a hapa and some random white guy gets to be the Last Airbender; you are told that you are culturally irrelevant but a useful tech person; you are told that you are going to be stopped for a “random check” at the airport because you look like a terrorist; you are told Vietnamese civilians had to be killed en masse because they were going commie.

When we walk into a museum or open our social media to see wealthy old white people putting on a kimono and smiling for a camera, it triggers a long history of memories like this. This alone should be enough to stop the event, and any discussion around it.

The Metropolitan Museum’s current Costume Institute exhibition is devoted to exploring how the “West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East.” In museum exhibitions and auction houses, 19th-century “Orientalist art” is having a major resurgence. All of this work, of course, is more about whiteness and European-ness than it is about actual Asian people. To borrow Toni Morrison’s indelible phrase from Playing in the Dark: “the subject of the dream is the dreamer,” the body of the other becomes a site for the “revelation of longing, of terror, of perplexity, of shame, of magnanimity” in the white literary imagination. But as people who go to museums, it would be nice to feel like more than backdrops to your dreams, to feel like we were given space for dreams of our own.

The infamous 1941 article in Life Magazine, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese,” an attempt at regulating racial boundaries through visual codes. (via english.illinois.edu)

To address the specific claims of “confused thinking” that the other article raised:

The art history, it turns out, suggests that Monet was trying to satirize the French fascination with Japanese objects and aesthetics in the 19th century. This doesn’t change anything about the present situation. What the protesters are railing against is the use of Japanese-ness and Asian-ness as a prop, both by Monet and the current “Kimono Wednesdays.” The kimono in question was stripped of its historical context first by the European gaze of Monet and second by a museum’s social media campaign. And though the reproduction kimono at the Boston MFA was commissioned by the Japanese TV company NHK, its use as a publicity prop within an American context troubles.

The article accuses the protesters of conflating Japonisme with Asian American identity. It is true that they are not the same. But there is a deep difference from saying that “all Asian experiences are the same” and someone of Asian descent choosing to self-identify as Asian American/Asian diasporic. The term “Asian American” originated in the late 60s as activists formed a movement for self-determination against the forces of racism, imperialism, and sexism. In 1982, when Chinese American Vincent Chin was murdered by a couple of white autoworkers because they thought he was Japanese and therefore stealing American auto industry jobs, it confirmed our suspicions: that a strategic political alliance of “Asian American” was a needed response to being grouped together by white supremacists. The very idea of Asian America is rooted in people choosing to create movements and protests under a unified identity. It is possible that “Asian American” is a tenuous coalition, and a holdover from another time — please let people of Asian descent decide whether that is true or not.

A rally following the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, and a seminal moment in Asian American identity formation.

The article concludes by arguing that the protestors at the Boston MFA are acting as “cultural cops.” This entirely misses the power dynamics at play. The Boston MFA is one of the most well-funded, prestigious, and influential arts institutions in America. If anything, it is large arts institutions that act as cultural police by writing histories of our art, and deciding when and where and in what contexts art is shown. A group of protesters voicing their opposition are not “cultural cops,” but people speaking to a power system from the margins.

Protesting this particular use of the kimono is different from declaring a moratorium on all kimonos worn by non-Japanese. By all means, wear a kimono at home, study its history. The point is that no one has the power to make such a dictate on costume. But institutions like the Boston MFA do have the power to listen and learn from this experience; people outside the Asian diaspora do have the power to learn about our history; and we, of the Asian diaspora, have the power to assert our humanity through protest.

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Ryan Wong

Ryan Lee Wong is an arts writer based in Brooklyn. He has worked at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Chinese in America, where he was assistant curator.

110 replies on “Seeing Beyond “Kimono Wednesdays”: On Asian American Protest”

  1. Let’s look at the context of this exhibit.

    According to the New York Times, the area of Amami Oshima alone has lost 19,500 jobs due to the decline in Kimono sales. 1985 it was a 16 Billion a year dollar industry. Today, it’s a 3 Billion dollar a year industry. Job losses are huge.

    Artists are dying without passing on their techniques – because apprentices can’t make a living now and their future prospects are dim.

    Kimono artists are doing everything they can to save their art. THEY came up with this exhibit in order to help generate interest in the kimono. It was successful in Japan, so they wanted the US to hold it to to generate interest here.

    The Japanese response to the protest is that the protesters are Anti-Japanese and trying to destroy their culture and destroy their jobs. They think the protesters are calling them “Imperialists” – because – well, you do know about Japanese history right?

    You can’t say that the museum is ignoring the “bigger picture” or the “bigger context” – because they know the bigger picture. They know the context.

    It’s the protesters who refuse to look at the big picture.

    1. I think one question that this controversy brings to light is: what is the role of the Fine Arts Museum? A simple definition would be that they serve to educate people on their own and other cultures via artistic imagery and representation. Ideally this education should increase visitors appreciation for ones own heritage and the human experience as a whole. Artworks also serve as historical markers of dominant or avant-garde ideologies in a given society.

      I am from New Hampshire and I have visited the Boston MFA many times. I am not of Asian descent but I think that this whole “kimono Wednesday” event oversimplifies and dumbs down the role of the museum, especially one as prolific as the Boston MFA. The role of the museum is not to sell or advertise goods. If kimono sales are down it is because kimono demand is down. That is the nature of consumer society. Some other kind of clothing has no doubt satiated the fashion desires that the kimono used to. I do not think that the relevancy of the kimono is at risk: it is cemented into the Japanese historic way of life through imagery such as the renowned ukiyo-e prints of Hiroshige and Hokusai. Revitalizing the kimono (even if it was orchestrated by Japanese people) as a sort of underhanded sales technique both perverts and confuses the role of the museum. Japanese/American interactions are incredibly rich in subject matter: from our gunship diplomacy that opened Japan to trade in the 19th century to World War II and the U.S.s’ dropping of two incredibly destructive bombs onto Japan. There are events that have occurred between our societies that speak to human nature and that can be learned from. I feel that the museum curator is truly at fault here for allowing something this mindlessly kitsch to enter a Fine Arts establishment instead of trying to increase cross cultural understanding by something other than a consumerist exoticism.

      1. We’ll have to disagree.

        I believe the purpose of a Museum is to preserve historical artifacts. Education is a nice side-component on that, but not the primary purpose.

        Japan is constantly portrayed in the media incorrectly, and their are no voices to call it out and correct it. Why? Is it because the average American of any background doesn’t know it’s incorrect? What about these protesters? At first they claimed the garment wasn’t even a kimono at first! That was part of their criticism of the event. (Kimono is to uchikake like pants are to jeans).

        These Protesters are co-opting a Japanese cultural event created by the Japanese to promote their culture inside the US, just like they offensively co-opted the term “Yellow Face” from the black community.

        1. I purposefully used the term Fine Arts Museum. There is a definite difference (but also similarities) between a place that preserves historical objects and a place that houses Fine Arts. “Historical objects” can mean anything from an arrowhead to an old flag. By relegating all museums (and therefore the artistic creations housed within them) to this simplified definition you strip art of its power to effect contemporary ideologies. As an example: Basquiat is a part of American history, yes, but his work is much more than an historical artifice. It applies to racial strife today more than ever and its expressive qualities can and do have an effect on society and its views of graffiti and African-American culture.

          The fact that Japanese people came up with this idea is somewhat besides the point, or at least my point. I agree that the protesters have taken this way too far and it almost seems like they’re trying to locate “racism” wherever they can. La Japonisme as a painting pales in comparison to the Japanese earthquake exhibition that was mentioned by another commenter (I didn’t have enough time to see the Hokusai unfortunately so I cannot comment on that). It was emotional, stylistically varied, and refreshingly novel. It seemed to be a truer insight into this misrepresented Japanese people you refer to. La Japonisme, I believe, is only famous because it was done by Monet. It’s a painting referring to the obsession with Japanese design aesthetics that invaded the west after the cultured nation was forced to open its doors to trade. The style was novel but highly developed so the masses ate it up. Is La Japonisme a parody of this obsession? Perhaps. But it’s relatively vapid and says almost nothing about Japanese culture other than simply depicting how stylish and nuanced the Europeans found them.

          I’m not arguing that these protests or these yellow face people have legitimate arguments I am arguing that the event itself is substancless and that trying to increase kimono sales is no excuse for a museum supposedly dedicated to “fine art”.

          1. Art Museums are valuable in two ways: They spark your interest in learning more about something, and they allow you to see art in person and better understand it. Photos do not capture images in the same way human eyes view images, so seeing an object in person vs seeing it in a photo is different.

            But they can’t compete with taking an Art History class or reading a book.

            Discussing “Art” isn’t a simple task, it’s immensely complicated. Do textiles count as “art” or not? Do they only count as art in certain circumstances? Do toys count as art? Humans have a long tradition of decoration and the debate on what is and isn’t art will always be evolving. I remember my surprise at seeing a collection of Armour and Weapons at an Art Museum. Is that really Art?

            Before I found out about this protest, I was pondering the “French” themed Japanese pens at the Japanese market. Its right up there with Macarons (french pastries). It also got me pondering why so many highly regarded feminist Japanese works are set in France. I suppose that’s another topic – but the Japanese love for all things French isn’t exactly subtle.

            But that love is important to understand why the Japanese love this painting so much. To them, it’s a celebration of the impact of Japanese culture on French culture. At the same time this was happening, Japanese textile art was being changed by the influx of new technology in regards to dye, techniques, motif’s, etc. Much of what we think of as “Kimono” today isn’t what was traditionally worn.

            That context of cultural exchange is critical to understanding the exhibit from a Japanese perspective.

          2. “Much of what we think of as “Kimono” today isn’t what was traditionally worn. That context of cultural exchange is critical to understanding the exhibit from a Japanese perspective.”
            That is the context the museum could have provided. Simple, not complicated, just informative enough to enhance the appreciation of the garment.

          3. I don’t think it’s fair to compare In the Wake to La Japonaise. Here’s a link for those who don’t know what it’s about.
            http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/in-the-wake

            Photography responses to the worst natural disaster in Japanese history in modern times isn’t at all comparable to a Monet. The former is deadly serious and the latter seems to be regarded by many as Monet being cheeky. Of course In the Wake gives more insight into modern Japanese people since most of the photographers whose work was shown were Japanese (a few non-Japanese were included as well). That doesn’t mean that La Japonaise has no relevance to the Japanese mindset. I talked to a docent who said that when Japanese tourists come to the MFA they ask for 2 paintings – La Japonaise and another whose title I’m forgetting (not a Monet – possibly a Degas?) The Japanese friend I was with said it’s because those paintings are in their textbooks. The Japanese love Monet and La Japonaise in particular. They are hugely proud of Japanese influence on European artists and don’t seem to view it as cultural appropriation or orientalism as the protesters keep insisting it is.

            For the record, I’ve seen no proof that this event has anything to do with increasing kimono sales. The uchikake were commissioned by NHK, Japan’s PBS. They were made by Takarazuka Stage Co., a stage management company. I’ve not yet been able to find out if actual kimono artisans worked on them or if they were created by Takarazuka’s costume design team. Many have speculated that this was all endorsed by the kimono industry and it’s true that they are actively working to increase foreign interest in kimono because they’ve been unable to revive interest at home. I’ve also heard that many kimono culture insiders are deeply concerned that the protest will negatively impact that interest because foreigners will be worried about being perceived as racist should they buy a kimono. I’m not sure how much the industry should be concerned about it but I don’t know enough about the industry to know if it might have an impact.

      2. The kimono in itself IS wearable art though. The role of a museum is not to sell paintings, but it exhibits paintings. The kimono in itself is a piece of art, that one can wear.

        1. If the kimono is wearable art, than the Museum could devote just a few words to identifying the specifics of the item, just as it has placards next to the paintings.

          1. Yes, I’m aware of that. Just wondered if it was addressed in the gallery talk, as stated above, cos I believe that would be in keeping with the Museum’s usual task, to inform.

          2. The focus of the Spotlight Talks is on the painting so their main goal is to inform about that. This event was intended to celebrate it’s homecoming – it was gone for 2 years – first being restored elsewhere in the museum and then on loan to Japanese museums. As someone who does fiber arts I would have preferred the option of a talk more focused on the uchikake but I understand that’s not their goal and anyone wandering in the Impressionist gallery is likely to be more interested in the painting than in learning about Japanese textiles. (I heard the above from the deputy director.)

            I heard an intern telling another visitor that they often accompany the Spotlight Talks with some sort of object (she mentioned musical instruments). I have no idea if they’re ever works of art in their own right.

          3. It is a mistake to think the protesters had sincere curiosity about the Kimono. They could not care less. They were there to hold up signs with their various messages. Like “If you want to see Japanese art why are you in the Impressionist gallery,” or “Try on the kimono learn what is to be a racist imperalist, etc,” or some such nonsense, as if museum goers didn’t know where they were. Totally condescending. And it was evident the kimono is wearable art without saying that because the kimono was on a stand right next to the painting and everyone knew it was exquisite,and everyone knew they could try it on, pose and have a photo taken. Somethings you don’t have to explain. But the protesters are grasping at straws, trying to find justification for protesting. It was almost as if they were making it up as they stood there with signs.

          4. I never said anything about whether the protestors were interested or not. I have just stated here and many other places on the internet that I personally think a few words imparted to all the people taking part in the “trying-on” either in the gallery talk or a few lines on a little sign on or near the cart of kimonos would enhance appreciation of the garment, and add a teeny bit more to cultural understanding.

          5. Ok I understand what you are saying now. I thought at first you were suggesting a measure to sort of placate the protesters (who I don’t sense are placatable. Sorry if I read you wrong!

          6. No problem. 🙂 I disagree, though, about them not being ‘placatable’. I think they’ve been placated by the museum cancelling the “trying-on” and adding more about the Japanese cultural/ historical aspect in their gallery talks obliging the protestors’ agenda, and also agreeing to a symposium about “representation in art” or something like that. They seem to have moved on from the “Stand against yellow face” aspect of the protest and are now focused on “decolonizing museums,” getting the museum to reveal details about about the acquisition history of items in the museum.

          7. Ah, but cancelling the try-on was not enough for the protesters. Now some are saying visitors should not wear, touch, or even gaze upon the kimono, because it is all “orientalist.” Placation is a drug of which they crave more, and more, and more…

          8. With regards to the protestors’ curiosity, I believe they were already informed about the type of garment it was, and I do know that at least one of them asked about the character depicted on the kimono, and if it refernced any particular story. The Museum staff wasn’t able to answer that, but I read that they now talk about it in the gallery talk. Don’t know if it’s factual or just speculation on the Museum’s part to appease the protestors. I wouldn’t make such a broad assumption saying the protestors don’t care at all.

          9. I believe initially the protesters didn’t have any idea that the kimonos were uchikake so I don’t think they were informed about what type of garment it was. But I could be mistaken.

            “Don’t know if it’s factual or just speculation on the Museum’s part to appease the protestors”

            I’m not sure I understand your question correctly but the story the MFA staff are referencing is accurate in as much as the Japanese understand it. There’s no speculation on the part of the MFA. I read a comment from a Japanese person on the deleted protest Facebook page that pointed to a scan of a Japanese book that said that they believed the character depicted on the uchikake was Taira no Koremochi from Momojigari. I later found out from MFA staff that they were told by NHK that they knew the story being depicted on the uchikake and therefore could guess what was on the side of the uchikake that you can’t see. So that seems to be the accepted understanding of the uchikake as Japanese scholars see it. The staff giving this week and last week’s talks told the whole tale.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momijigari_%28play%29

          10. Thanks for all your replies, I have great respect for the way you are responding to the protests, with thorough deliberation and insight. Have been following your blog. I said what I said about the “speculation” because I thought I’d read somewhere that the Museum staff originally didn’t know the answer to the question. I could be wrong.

          11. Thanks very much! I’ve tried my best not to rant on my blog because I don’t think it will contribute much to people learning more.

            “I said what I said about the “speculation” because I thought I’d read somewhere that the Museum sraff oruginally didn’t know the answer to the question”

            I think I can clear that up. The people who give the talks are from the education department and as I understand it are not the people who worked directly with NHK on this (though it’s possible some did and some didn’t). It’s probable that the person giving the talk the day the protesters say she didn’t know the answer to their question was just uninformed, not that someone at the MFA didn’t know the answer. When I asked a question the speaker didn’t know the answer to she said she would email me the response later and she got back to me the next day. All the MFA staff I’ve talked to have been great from security to the docents to the education staff to the administration. Their hearts are clearly in the right place and they have an excellent relationship with the Japanese people and groups they work with so the protests took them by surprise.

            While it does sound like there was poor planning and execution of the events I don’t believe there was any ill intent. I used to work in the arts and I’ve done a lot of event planning. Compared to other events the museum hosts these seem insignificant. I can see how in the planning stage it might have gotten short shrift because you never have enough time to get every thing done in the arts. I think the protesters are demanding all sorts of completely unrealistic education that neither the MFA nor NHK (and probably not the public) would want to be providing at these events.

            It seems like most of the people who attend Spotlight Talks are just passing through the gallery (you have to walk through the Rabb Gallery to get to other places) and will pause and listen for either a few minutes or maybe the whole 15. But no one is going to stick around for an hour-long talk on postcolonial theory, the Kanagawa Treaty and all the other stuff the protesters have said the MFA ought to be educating the public on. I’m sure there are thousands of topics that one could relate to La Japonaise and the uchikake but you have to pick what you can talk about in 15 minutes that isn’t going to cause the public to leave because they’re so bored. The MFA may have a goal of educating but they also have to entertain.

            I think part of the reason people are so frustrated by the protesters is that at times they don’t even seem to know what it is they’re protesting about. I think I could come up with a list of more than 20 theories/terms/concepts they’ve brought up in connection with Kimono Wednesday and most people are just like, “wha???” I’ve heard and seen that talking to them doesn’t actually seem to clarify much if anything (except for in some cases how much they seem to hate white people). If they’d taken a different approach they might have garnered more support because some Japanese Americans and Asian Americans are uncomfortable with the MFA’s actions. But they offended a lot of JAs/AAs right out the gate with their first group name which they kept for a month! I saw a bunch of commentary saying they found the protesters more offensive than the MFA’s actions. It seems like those who understand some of the issues the protesters have brought up don’t want to be associated with them because of their rhetoric and vitriol so they’re not getting much public support. I don’t see that changing. They’re currently saying that they never said it was bad for white people to wear kimono but one of their very first signs said that doing so would help you “learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!” I’m not sure how else people were supposed to interpret that sign. It doesn’t go after the MFA, it goes after the people trying on the kimono. The photo they’ve used for publicity of the person holding that sign talking to the elderly white couple in the uchikake didn’t help since it totally made it look like they were calling the old white couple racist imperialists.
            http://theredkimono.com/2015/07/23/mind-your-own-business/

          12. I, too, think the protests could have been really persuasive, relatable, and positively impacting if they weren’t so belligerant and pig-headed in their dogmatic scheme of things, and had taken a more considered approach. I believe, though, that they really have not been against white people wearing kimonos on the whole, though some protestors have more radical views and feelings thsn others. I’ve interpreted that sign as saying the museum was encouraging an act of “racist” appropriation because of the original lack of Japanese cultural context in the presentation and them thinking Monet was racist because in their view he was just another European white male who immediately exploited the forced opening of Japan and lived during the time when France was a colonial power. I feel there is actually a bit of nuance to that sign, but it is just very understandably lost with the bold accusation of “Racist!” I think it’s not expressed properly. Or maybe I’m giving the protestors too much benefit of the doubt. 🙂 If they were really just about educating the public properly, their signs could have said something to that effect.

          13. haha, that’s amazing. more than a little daunting. But I think all this pretentious terminology speaks to a depth of the emotional experience of living as a minority in a white-dominant culture.

          14. I was a little shocked as I was going through their materials and photos and just kept finding more and more things to write down. They don’t seem to understand why people are so confused about what their protest is about and I think the list shows pretty clearly why it was impossible for the public to follow. Clearly none of them work in marketing or communications. 🙂

            I’m not sure how representative their personal experiences are of other Asian Americans. They seem to have experienced far more trauma than my AA friends and family. They have a sort of siege mentality that I’ve seen in the LGBT community with regard to Christianity (and I’ve gathered from some of the language they’ve used and looking them up that several of them are LGBT which I’ve refrained from discussing on my blog even though I think it might be relevant).

            I chatted with a couple of AA friends about microaggressions and cultural appropriation and was a little surprised to hear one of them describe some of the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of ignorant white people as mere “annoyances”. The other person didn’t seem to really believe in cultural appropriation as a thing. Based on stuff I’ve seen around the Internet and conversations I’ve had with a lot of JAs I think there’s a wide range in how we handle the minority stress. Some of us seem to be more resilient than others and some of us seem to be more accepting of assimilating with whites without feeling like we’re being colonized.

          15. Yes, I think the LGBT ( or rather QTWOC) angle is HUGELY relevant in what’s pushing the protest forth. I think many to most people would agree with the annoyance aspect of the microaggressions, and it’s great fodder for comedy, really, but I think there are people who experience a much deeper feeling of marginalization and this protest speaks to those who are fed up with maybe not being able to relax into who they are, or something like that.

          16. I think it’s harder for a lot of QTWOC since there may be no community where they feel they fully fit in. Maybe I’ve just been luckier than most. Though I do think attitude makes a difference. If you approach people with hate it often just gets reflected back at you. I saw a lot of conversations on their Facebook pages that they could have de-escalated but instead they escalated them and then kept going. Then they complained about all the harassment. I get that there was unprovoked harassment but… I don’t know, I’m a big believer in an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. It doesn’t get you anywhere useful. It seems like they have a lot of preconceived notions about white people and no one likes to be told that someone else knows better than they do about their life experience and how they should be in the world. That was something they kept doing, especially to the Westerners who have Japanese/JA spouses which was totally condescending.

          17. I’ve been on the FB page a lot lately as well, and I agree with how all the petty escalation was terrible and was definitely doing them harm. I have to say though, that some of those Westerners with Japanese wives/girlfriends and other close connections with Japan have also been extremely condescending and arrogant to the protestors from the beginning. I don’t think there was ever any space for a real dialogue. The critics seemed to shoot down almost anything the protestors said..even when they expressed themselves perfectly clearly and civil-ly and gave elaborate answers. It was like no one was really listening to them at all, considering their viewpoint at all. It felt like eyes were glazing over, and they ( the critics) would just attack, attack, attack.

          18. I do think their agenda has made the protestors blind to any other possible view of the event though. I do think they are more than a little ignorant with respect to how the Japanese feel about the painting.

        2. SLAM, I completely agree with you. What I was responding to was JR DNR’s comment about the reason for the purpose of this exhibit: bolstering kimono sales. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. I just wanted to assert that increasing slumping Kimono sales isn’t a good reason for coming up with a fine arts exhibition. But I appreciate the utility of the Kimono in regard to the exhibition and the Japanese mindset, especially after reading Keiko’s and Peas’comments.

      3. I’m astounded that you think that a painstaking handmade recreation of a 140-year-old costume is “mindlessly kitsch”. You must not have ever done any fiber arts. These uchikake likely took hundreds of hours to design and create. It’s a huge deal that the public is allowed to wear them. In Japan you never let just anyone touch or try on your good kimonos. A theatrical uchikake of this quality is something that not even women who rent wedding uchikake get to wear (something this ornate would be extremely expensive to rent so some women may opt for less ornate uchikake). This was a rare opportunity for people in both Japan and the States to experience something unique that they would likely never have access to in their lifetimes.

        I find museums a bit on the boring side frankly. The art just sits there and all you can do is look at it and photograph it. Kimono Wednesdays were an interesting way to literally step into history. It is completely natural to want to touch art. I see this all the time when I knit, crochet, and do origami in public. Not everyone learns the same way and for some, making the art tangible would make it a completely different experience.

        1. What I want to know is if the museum-goers were informed that what they were wearing was an uchikake, and a theatrical one, at that? I think that would add to the appreciation, just knowing *that* simple “context.” I’m not someone who thinks the whole history of the kimono or of Japan needs to be expounded at this event, but I think it would be nice for people who might not know (I would wager that many to most attendees in Boston would not specifically know )to appreciate how special it is, as you have described. In Japan, many more peple would recognize the difference. I’m one of the people who think a museum’s role is to educate. Adding just a few extra words about the garment would educate at an acceptable bare minimum.

          1. I only went on weeks 4 and 5. I had difficulty hearing on week 4 because I didn’t get a good spot and eventually just moved around to take pictures so I don’t know if it was mentioned. During the talks this week it was mentioned.

            The protesters haven’t been fully upfront about the MFA’s actions and the history of the event either because they didn’t know certain things or because it wouldn’t fit the protest rhetoric. I know they’ve accused the MFA of providing no education initially but the deputy director of the MFA told me they gave talks the first week and the protesters didn’t ask any questions afterwards even though questions were invited. Two of the counterprotesters were there that first week but I didn’t think to ask them what the event was like (just what it was like to try on the uchikake). I knew when someone told me about it that they were clearly not telling the whole story so I’ve preferred to do my own research and not rely on what the protesters are saying.

          2. I don’t know. The protesters have claimed that none of this was talked about in the first couple of weeks but they’ve done a lot of mask the full story either because they didn’t know or were trying to bend opinion their way so I haven’t been willing to assume that’s how it went. If I ever manage to catch up with the two white couterprotesters who attended the first Kimono Wednesdays I plan to ask them to tell me more about how the event was presented.

        2. Keiko,
          I was not referring to the Kimono itself as mindlessly kitsch, I was referring to the work La Japonisme by Monet. I am sorry if that was confusing. You are correct that I am not versed in Fiber Arts but I do understand your point regarding the skill and time it takes to create such an intricate garment and I apologize if it seemed like I was belittling the craftspeople that make them. If you find museums boring (I sometimes do too) that is fine and I think that this painting is just that: pretty boring. Obviously this is only my opinion. I concede to your point about the wearing of the Kimono and its value for museum visitors.If I was at the MFA I would no doubt try it on for the tangible learning experience, never mind the fact that it sounds like plain old fun…

          I think I went too far with propogating my own taste in regard to this work and its accompanying “Kimono Wednesday”. I don’t personally like or intellectually engage with the painting but that doesn’t mean that the Japanese people don’t or shouldn’t appreciate it as a bridge between their culture and the west. This kind of mutual appreciation is one of the roles of museums, I think, and I had never thought about the work in this way.

          In regards to your other comment about the two shows being very different, i again stand corrected. I was viewing these exhibitions as a way for an American to further understand Japanese culture. I did not consider that they may have served different roles. I do stick by my statement about the effect of in the wake as being more powerful and illuminating than La Japonisme, but again this is only my opinion plus the fact that a single painting is being compared to a plethora of works from a wide variety of artists.

          Thanks for the thoughts Keiko.

          1. My apologies for misreading your comment. I’ve read that even Monet called La Japonaise “trash” later in life. I think regardless of how it’s viewed from a critical art perspective I find La Japonaise’s enduring popularity among Japanese people interesting. Sometimes it’s the culture around art, not the art itself where the interesting stories are.

            I don’t get the impression there was much intention for Kimono Wednesdays to actively give Americans a better understanding of Japanese culture since the focus was initially on the painting but sometimes it isn’t necessary for education to be rammed down people’s throats. I think sparking curiosity is more important for educators to do rather than force-feeding. I’m more than certain that Kimono Wednesdays would do just that for those who didn’t already come in with an extensive knowledge of Japanese culture.

            I don’t think there was any way In the Wake could not be more powerful than something like La Japonaise given the scale of the tragedy and the fact that it’s still so current. I found the wall of recovered photographs eerie and heartbreaking.

  2. Someone who doesn’t embody an experience does not get to tell those who do when, how, or why to protest… It is the job of those outside that experience to listen.

    The other side of that equation has gone missing, the “job” of those who embody the experience. I guess that violates the identity politics paradigm (“Haven’t people of color suffered enough?” etc.) but without it, it’s impossible to consider some sensible questions about whether there are any limits at all to the offense that the offended may take, or if any ensuing response is justified or reasonable.

    Stand Against Yellow Face has toned down its rhetoric somewhat but it began by accusing the MFA Boston of racism, advancing white supremacy, and putting brown bodies on the line. Yes, a kimono-donning outreach event that played well where it originated in Japan didn’t go over here with everyone. Responding by talking about the museum as if it were an active chapter of the Klan just looks bonkers. The last time I checked, SAYF’s statement was referencing #blacklivesmatter despite the fact that Asians in the US suffer from violence at even lower rates than white people.

    SAYF seems to be frustrated that not everyone was cowed by this kind of language and has responded largely by pettifogging, saying for instance that they never claimed to be speaking for all Asian-Americans despite weeks of speaking in such broad generalizations about them that nobody would be able to tell the difference.

    SAYF and its supporters ascribe resistance to its message as further proof of systemic and individual racism without ever considering whether its claims mesh fully with reality or if there are epistemic limits to how much you can claim on the basis of embodied experience. Reality invariably pushes back.

    Full disclosure: I wrote this.

    1. “Someone who doesn’t embody an experience does not get to tell those who do when, how, or why to protest… It is the job of those outside that experience to listen.”

      I, for one cannot live by such an ABSOLUTE statement. I cannot apply this to say French culture, any culture, the white race for that matter, U.S. White Southerners, Nazis in the 1930’s, Rwandans, Turks, Kurds, Jews, Palestinians, Burma’s Buddhists, in India, 1%ers, and so on….

      Culture exchange and cross-pollination is essential to our collective progress. For example, I do NOT think non-Rastafarians sporting deadlocks are disrespectful of Rastafarians as I have been told, anymore than Africans dyeing their hair blonde is an appropriation of the Aryan Ideal….

      I tried to make my points clear enough and tried not to raise too many hackles (just a few). Peace, Cheers. Let’s not strive to make the Human Race into islands of Balkanized, resentful, self-centered tribes with only well-scripted, ritualized, negotiated interchange allowed between them.

      NB; The whole debate is kind of fun and worthwhile , but definitely a “First World” type of problem compared to the torrents of hate, atrocities, record number of refugees the planet is experiencing as we speak.

    2. They haven’t toned down their rhetoric so much as mostly stopped engaging in the dialogue they invited the public to have on Facebook.

      “and putting brown bodies on the line.”

      They are still doing that. This week they held signs that read:
      “This exhibit perpetuates violence against Black and Brown bodies. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized people whose histories have been stolen by institutions like the MFA.”

      They do seem to have ditched the #whitesupremacykills hashtag though.

      “The last time I checked, SAYF’s statement was referencing
      #blacklivesmatter despite the fact that Asians in the US suffer from
      violence at even lower rates than white people.”

      They seem to have co-opted much of their language from Black Lives Matter. Here’s a link for any non-Americans reading who don’t know what that means.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter

      I haven’t seen much solidarity returned. I think I saw one black person supporting them on Facebook and one who came in person this week.

      As a whole group Asian Americans have better violence and incarceration outcomes than whites but subgroups may not. In areas where gang violence is high and where there are low income refugee populations I’ve seen mention that their incarceration rates are more on par with blacks (not sure about violence). Clearly no black people are dying as a result of Kimono Wednesdays but I don’t think any Asian Americans are either.

      1. In the course of the Facebook discussions one of them brought up the recent spate of church arsons. I replied that Monet was responsible for at most one or two of them. I don’t like speculating about peoples’ motives but you have to wonder what’s going on in the mind of someone making such a desperate and stretched argument.

        1. Truly I don’t know. I’ve spent three solid weeks reading their materials and their Facebook posts and I’m not sure I’m really in any better position to explain where they are coming from than I was the first day I started researching. I’ve been talking to some other JAs who’ve been following the protest closely and they’ve said much the same thing. One of them said it’s like chasing clouds because they keep changing what they’re talking about. One week it’s fighting yellowface and the next week it’s church arsons. I’m hoping that next week it will be Trump’s hair.
          http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article10412224.ece/alternates/w460/Trump-2-Reuters.jpg

          I think there are some Asian Americans and other people of color who see oppression of all POC as linked. While I agree with this to some degree I think it varies a lot depending on where you live and what the demographics are and what the power structure is like. Asian Americans are part of the power structure in Hawaii and some parts of the West Coast.

          Asian Americans often get a pass because we’re the “good” POC (I actually had a now former white friend tell me that Asians were awesomer than everyone else and he wanted to be Asian. We won’t talk about what he said about blacks.) Many AAs have it much, much easier than blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners though I’ve heard some stories from JAs of bad experiences with police. Still, to try and equate our experience with that of black & brown (Latino, Native, and Arab) people is just offensive. For whatever racism I’ve faced in my life it pales in comparison to what other POC go through and I would never tell them that I see my issues as on par with theirs. Though I understand that other AAs may have had vastly different life experiences which could be closer to black/brown experience.

  3. This article is the worst kind of bigotry and philosophical nonsense I have ever heard. Appropriation has become a non word and meant to intimidate and push us all into tiny boxes made by small minds. JR DNR has a strong, fact based point and brings a strong argument to the table. Apparently we are no longer allowed to explore other cultures or be inspired. So much for the broadening of the college educated mind.

  4. Katy Perry has also appeared as Cleopatra, a California ‘Gurl’, a Teenage Dream, a Jungle woman; she seems to like to play, and play with with these iconic/stereotypical images.

  5. “we, of the Asian diaspora, have the power to assert our humanity through protest”

    What emphatic, empty gibberish. As the author well knows the “we” in the case of the protests is a small group of activists of all races and mostly one gender, not the spokespeople for an allegedly unified American ‘Asian diaspora’ (let alone Japanese-Americans).

    The whole article is another illustration of the toxic nature of identity politics. Why would the author write ‘But as people who go to museums, it would be nice to feel like more than backdrops to your dreams’ ? Does he assume his readers are ‘white’ ? Does he need to build an ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric to comfort his confused, anti-intellectual views ? Does disagreeing with him put one on the side of oppression, imperialism, whiteness and white supremacism ?

    I did enjoy his brief description of Monet : a ‘European male artist’. This should be the dictionary definiton for all of them.
    Michelangelo (1475-1564) : European male artist
    Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) : European male artist
    Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) : European male artist
    Things would be greatly clarified.

    1. “Does disagreeing with him put one on the side of oppression, imperialism, whiteness and white supremacism ?”

      I don’t know about the author but for the protesters yes. On Facebook they accuse anyone who doesn’t agree with them of:

      Japanese Americans & other Asian Americans – supporting the white supremacist power structure

      women – supporting the patriarchy

      white people – being blind to the white supremacist power structure they are part of.

      Japanese people they just dismiss as either irrelevant because they don’t live here or not able to follow the conversation because they don’t understand the complex identity politics.

      They have called their non-white critics apologists and called a 1/2 Filipino, 1/2 black man “Uncle Tom”. And when they’ve been accused of reverse racism they’ve defended their beliefs as coming from a place of deep pain and said they aren’t racist because non-whites can’t be racists because of the white power structure. See:
      http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/reverse-racism-doesnt-exist/

  6. Thank you Ryan. The refusal of so many to recognize how closely museology is tied to nationalism here and in Japan has been quite frustrating to witness. As has the insistence that Asian Americans have no stake here – as if cultural exchange can happen responsibly when conducted among the most nationalist/supremacist factions of two countries without any consideration of how those exchanges have fueled a history of oppression. Now, stripped of other hollow validations for their stubborn but wrongheaded arguments, the tone shifts to a neoliberal one. Economic stimulus is neither a legitimate reason to present art nor a legitimate excuse for racially insensitive behavior, particularly on the part of institutions with the stature and platform of the MFA.

    Hrag, Rodney needs to be encouraged to do actual research before you publish another litany of his personal opinions. This is not the Hyperallergic we know and love.

      1. Hrag, I’m sorry but to suggest that because some Asian Americans don’t agree with the protestors as a defense of the exhibit is like citing Clarence Thomas as a defense of racial profiling. You can ALWAYS find someone that disagrees with a particular point of view but as this article so plainly points out, cultures outside of the particular one being exploited don’t get to say that no one is getting exploited. It is our job to listen, not to defend.

        1. Actually, this is just one point but there have been others who disagree. Calling this blogger Clarence Thomas is just offensive. And please don’t determine my job for me. As a West Asian, the issues of Orientalism are crucial to me and no one group gets to determine its boundaries and how it is or isn’t policed.

          1. Actually, if you read my comment, you would understand that in no way shape or form did I call or compare this or any other blogger to Clarence Thomas. I drew a corrolary between the fact that within any population you will find a variety of opinions and using that diversity of opinion to defend the dismissal of the expression of outrage by people inside that group I find offensive. The originating article suggests a hierarchy of oppression and a dismissal of offense being taken and I found that offensive.

        2. Not sure how you understand Clarence Thomas but my understanding of his views on issues that affect the black community is that he tends to holds a minority view not in line with what the rest of the community thinks. Which is actually more applicable to the protesters than those of us who are speaking out against the protest.

          While I’ve been careful to say that I’m not speaking for the Japanese/Japanese American communities and to let people know that the protesters have some Japanese/Japanese American support, as far as I’ve been able to tell from the research that I’ve done for the past three weeks the protesters are pushing an agenda that most Japanese Americans don’t agree with (and almost no Japanese). It’s not even clear to me that many non-Japanese Asian Americans agree with them. I’ve talked to a few who said they have no idea what the problem is.

          By my count they’ve had no more than 18 protesters show up (that was last week which was week 4 and they were 1/3 white allies). The Boston Globe reported the count as around two dozen. If many Asian American were as “enraged” as they are I would expect at least a few hundred people to show up. They currently have 104 likes on their Facebook page. I think that I managed to read most of their original (now deleted) Facebook page and I’ve kept up with their two new pages. I’ve seen no more than 5-6 supportive Japanese/Japanese Americans. I’m only aware of one Japanese American who has protested with them in person (though it’s possible, but not very likely, that there are more – most did not look to be of Japanese descent to me). Based on the lack of support I’d say they’re a fringe group with a minority view.

          The protesters have sent mixed messages about who they’re speaking for which is why so many JAs are upset about the protest. They have appeared to be speaking on behalf of Japanese and Japanese Americans as though we need their help even though many have tried to tell them no thanks, we’re okay with this event. They’ve made remarks about how Japan deserves better than this even though it seems like Japan is just fine with this. Japan has a long history working with the MFA. There is no way this event would have gotten approved if Japan had been upset about it. This has given the wrong impression to some members of the public that Japanese and Japanese Americans think it’s racist for white people to wear kimonos which isn’t what most of us think. The protesters have continued to act like we don’t have the agency or education to speak for ourselves which I, and other JAs, find incredibly patronizing.

      2. I simply don’t see what “opinions” have to do with any of this. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Criticism is based in research and journalism even more so. You’ve run two pieces by Seph Rodney this week – the MFA one and the Cady Noland one – in which he basically synopsized other venues’ reporting second-hand and then drew conclusions while failing to accurately represent the positions of the side he disagreed with. I was tired enough from trying to correct the factual record of what the nature of AAPI protesters’ disagreement was with the MFA that I didn’t have it in me to take up the total disregard for established artists’ best practices wrt publicly installed artwork that underpinned his ill-informed opinions on Cady Noland.

        Is art criticism just about how we feel now? I’ve certainly been on the side of being the author (of a Hyperallergic piece) whose facts are being questioned – but I just don’t see Rodney basing his opinions on a full consideration of the facts. For example he doesn’t cite the names of any of the Boston Globe art historians he calls in to back up his point of view – thereby ensuring readers couldn’t possibly review the facts and come up with our own opinions. It’s not up to the standards you usually put forward as a publication.

        1. Yes, criticism is based on journalism and research but let’s not be delusional that there are indisputable facts all the time on every issue, as there are not and the interpretation of the facts is usually the focus. Two people (hell, 10 people) can see the same thing many different ways. They may agree on the facts, but their perspectives alter the meaning within the content. The vast majority of what we do is opinion — also, none of what we are discussing now in a strict sense is art criticism, this is an opinion on a political issue and how a museum chose to present and discuss an object (badly, clearly). I’m actually fascinated why you think this is so cut and dry.

          In this case the issue is not if museums do support a Eurocentric framework or white supremacy — which most of us agree they do, I’ll leave aside the discussion of those who don’t agree with that — but if the protest had taken the history of the object, the history of Japanese kimonos, Japanese American perspectives, and how the meaning may have evolved in a contemporary understanding, and whether calling it racist is accurate. Also, the other issue is the evolving term Asian American and what that means for people and the parameters.

          For instance, in examples Ryan uses here South Asians are not factored in, even if many South Asians may associate with the term, and many may not. As you probably know, South Asians were once considered “white” until it was changed, and these categories shift in the bizarre logic of US white supremacy — which is not based on science at all. There’s a fascinating article on South Asian American self-identification that you probably know about but I’ll provide a link for others who may not: http://sociology.fas.nyu.edu/docs/IO/1043/S.Asian.Race.ID.JEMS.January.2001.pdf

          The history of Asian Americans, as Ryan acknowledges, is an evolving sphere and in this case many Japanese Americans (as one commenter who self-identifies that way has already pointed out and another blogger I linked to) don’t necessary see the issue the same way. I think the bigger issue we’re discussing is the framing of the protest and the parameters of what it entailed.

          The Boston Globe art historians comment is a cheap shot, since he actually mentions and discusses that in his piece, but I think we can probably assume the Globe DID talk to art historians that explained that point (unless you think they made that up). I’m not going to your comment about Seph’s other posts as the tradition of commentary has a long history in journalism and art history.

          [btw, sorry if something looks weird in this comment as disqus is acting up for me]

          1. I disagree that it’s a “cheap shot.” As you say, 10 different people can have different opinions based on the same facts. My critique is that I don’t think Rodney accurately and thoroughly reported the facts (in either of the two pieces I cited).

            If Hyperallergic is going to run op-eds I would argue that it’s time to take a page from old media and create an editorial section where those kinds of personal viewpoints are distinguished from research-based journalism and art criticism.

          2. Maybe not. But context does matter and opinions formed in the absence of context are not very useful to advancing understanding. Overall the reporting on this topic has been pretty pathetic – from the reactionary rhetoric used by the protest blog to the lazy Globe reporting – and Hyperallergic could have taken the opportunity to produce a piece of writing that would dig into the issues and explore them in an informed manner instead of running a reaction piece based on very limited understanding. The frame of repeated Orientalist “education” and “engagement” programs run by U.S. museums in recent years was absent, as was any cited research into art history – the Globe’s nameless “art historians” notwithstanding (can you call it art history if you don’t cite your sources? I think not).

          3. As someone who is a first-gen Indian-American and 35 years of age, I’m rather astounded at hearing that “South Asians” have been seen as “white” at any time in this country. I have never heard that as an aspect of history, or witnessed that at any point in my life, and I’m pretty sure no one I know has ever been a witness to that. I do know that I’ve read that they were denied the “white” status when Italians and Poles were allowed into it. Thanks for linking to that self-identification article. Will read it with great interest.

          4. Arabs are currently classified as white by the U.S. Census but no one in their right mind would argue they are treated as white in U.S. society. If South Asians were put in that category it was a sign of demographic invisibility rather than inclusion. To be clear, it is Western cultural institutions that have lumped all non-Western cultures into a mass of undifferentiated “timeless” and “exotic” relics through encyclopedic collecting practices. Immigrant and minority communities in the West have been gradually responding to this fact by building political coalitions across cultural boundaries. This is something that many in the home countries cannot see or understand but that does not de-legitimate those coalitions in any way.

            The MFA is under fire partly because they are the latest in a string of US museums to use Asian cultural exhibits as exotic fodder for social media and marketing campaigns. If they are being unfairly maligned then they really ought to fault the Asian Art Museum, the Met, etc for setting the precedent rather than fault the protesters for pointing out the racist tropes that they are playing into. I actually agree with Hrag that this is a less egregious act of cultural appropriation than most given that Japanese culture is well-represented at the museum concurrently with this display – but I also think that encyclopedic museums like the MFA have a lot to answer for with respect to the acquisition and interpretation of their non-Western collections that a program like this detracts from rather than implements.

  7. I am Japanese American. My mother was an internee during World War II. Yet, I fail to see how Mr. Wong’s statement, “When we walk into a museum or open our social media to see wealthy old white people putting on a kimono and smiling for a camera” brings about the “long history of memories” he mentioned in the paragraph preceding.

    We learn from our past histories, good and bad. How each individual chooses to let history affect him is up to that individual. Mr. Wong saw “wealthy old white people,” and they somehow reminded him of oppression. I saw a couple simply enjoying aspects of art and a different culture.

    Where do we draw the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? Each person will answer differently, but as I see it, there are far worse examples of cultural appropriation than donning a kimono at an art exhibit.

    1. I’ve been annoyed by the assumption of the protesters and some of their supporters that the only people who go to the MFA to experience Kimono Wednesdays are rich white people. Two of the counterprotesters I talked to who tried on the uchikake the first week are young and not wealthy as far I could guess based on their talking about their shifts at work. I’ve been there for the past two weeks and heard languages other than English, and seen a lot of Asians. And as I keep pointing out the museum is free on Wednesday nights if you want it to be (admission “by voluntary contribution”) so it’s completely accessible to people who aren’t wealthy.

  8. The author of this article is “appropriating” the struggles of Asian Americans to rationalize the actions of these confused museum protesters. To link the two shows how little he knows about the Asian American movement. The Asian American movement fought against REAL problems: housing discrimination, stereotypes in the media, job discrimination, the glass ceiling, police brutality in Chinatown, reparations for internment of Japanese Americans, violence against Asians (like Vincent Chin), urban removal, making sure Chinatown NY got attention after 911 and the pollution that resulted, healthcare for Asians, care for the aged, making available translations into Asian languages for voting, legal matters, and medical care. And out of struggles came a sense of solidarity among Asians because they often supported each other. That is where the term Asian American came into being. There was also solidarity with Blacks, Latinos, and Whites who were supportive of Asians and vice versa. To exclude Whites from the equation was something that progressive Asian Americans quickly learned NOT to do because America is a multicultural nation and everyone needs to work together. So all this talk by the protesters about whites being the enemy is anathema to the Asian American movement. And please note: while there was solidarity among Asians they NEVER EVER regarded themselves as one homogenous group. Each group has its own history and culture, traditional dress, and language, and everyone respected that. And all the groups tried to avoid stepping on each other TOES! In fact, Asian Americans made it a point to declare to America that Asians are NOT NOT NOT all alike. But here you are Ryan. You effectively lump Asians together by saying white people trying on kimono somehow affects Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese. No, kimono is a uniquely Japanese article of clothing. It has nothing to do with Chinese, etc. And there is nothing racist and imperialist about white people trying on the kimono. And no one is misappropriating Japanese culture. They are just trying on an article of clothing! You must not be aware that Japan welcomes non-Japanese to share in its culture. And Japan’s been sharing ever since Matthew Perry and his Black Ships came knocking back in 1853! And here in America, Japanese Americans often invite their non-Japanese friends to go to various festivals and come in KIMONO (oooh!). The protesters completely missed the point of the exhibit. They complain that ” there wasn’t enough detailed information about the kimono,” as if they were really interested. NOT. And they complained “the kimono is only being used as a prop.” The fact is the kimono was MEANT as a prop, in addition to being an example of Japanese textile artistry. Visitors were invited to experience the kimono (the texture and the great weight), and then they were invited to use it as a stage prop by putting it on and posing in front of the painting, and then have a photo taken. What was that about ? It’s what is all the rage in Japan right now. It’s called cosplay, where people dress up like famous people or characters (like Marie Antoinette or Einstein, or Totoro). They pose for each other and get their picture taken. It was suppose to be fun. But noooooo, the party-pooping pretentious protesters were so in love with pushing the concept of “decolonize the museum” they couldn’t see what was really happening. They acted like authoritarian colonizers, Big Brother censors, mandating what the museum and visitors can and cannot do. What a drag! When you try to fit the world into your pre-conceived idea of the world, that is called dogmatism. And that is a disease that will corrode the brain. Get rid of it before it is too late!

    1. Just wanted to point out that Asian American groups are still fighting for these things. We haven’t gotten to past tense yet. But thank you for that long and detailed rundown of issues that are important to AAs.

      They didn’t rebrand to “Decolonize Our Museums” until just this week (week 4). Before that it was “Stand Against Yellow Face” because somehow people cosplaying as Camille Monet is yellow face.

      You might be interested to know that a couple of arts orgs have spoken out against the MFA’s self-censorship. I wrote it up here:
      http://japaneseamericaninboston.blogspot.com/2015/07/center-for-art-law-and-ncac-critical-of.html
      I think my favorite part of NCAC’s letter was saying that “by acceding to the demands of protesters and canceling the program, the museum has privileged their voice over any others who may see it in a different way.”

      1. Keiko. Agree totally. Still much to be done to move forward in several areas of Asian American and other concerns. Thanks for pointing that ou.

  9. Thanks Ryan Wong for this article — a useful corrective to the confused thinking & condescending tone of that earlier piece that had appeared here at Hyperallergic.

  10. 1. OK. As an asian, I will say this loud and clear: There is no Asian experience. Can you stop lumping all asians together and flattening the asian experience? When asian are treated as an entity, not people with individual experiences, THAT is what causes racism. As we have seen, a lot of the fury amongst Japanese is that most of the protestors are not Japanese, or Japanese American but Chinese American. You cant represent the Asian experience and you cant say you do.
    Asians have different cultures, different foods, different family structures, different socio economic status. I mean, do you even know a Japanese or Indian girl that would date a Chinese guy? Maybe, but its not common, I personally don’t. How mixed is the Asian American community? (I mean, really?)

    To feel trauma on behalf of a Vietnamese person when you are not Vietnamese is truly absurd and patronizing.

    Im only guessing you know how much hate there is between Japanese and Chinese? To say that has nothing to do with Asian Americans is naive.
    What is racist is asian americans NOT giving Japanese / Japanese Americans a chance to voice their experience, if they say, no we dont feel upset at this, please try on this wearable art that our master artisans have made, we are proud of the japonisme movement and we like to share our culture, why should another race, with another experience, another culture say, NO! You should be offended. This is an issue of power — you are obsessed with controlling the way people feel, what they can even think. You are one scary guy.
    “people of the Asian diaspora have the right to interrogate what that means within a social context, weigh that against our lived experiences, and find it inappropriate”

    No sorry, everyone has the *right* to do that. You frighten me, seriously.

    2. The show was going JUST THAT. It was showing that cultural influence was a two way experience. The show was organized by a Japanese entity. Japanese people were willingly exporting their culture. They are completely complicit in the way they are being represented.

    3. When we walk into a museum or open our social media to see wealthy old
    white people putting on a kimono and smiling for a camera, it triggers a
    long history of memories like this. This alone should be enough to stop
    the event, and any discussion around it. <Were you an extremely spoilt child? and still are? Sorry, but in the real world, you cant stop anyone from having a discussion about anything. If you decide to feel trauma on someone's behalf and throw a tantrum, mum will bring you a pacifier. The real world doesnt work that way.

    1. “I mean, do you even know a Japanese or Indian girl that would date a
      Chinese guy? Maybe, but its not common, I personally don’t. How mixed
      is the Asian American community? (I mean, really?)”

      Not entirely sure if you were being rhetorical but I thought I’d respond anyway. Japanese Americans have the highest rate of intermarriage among Asian Americans though looks like it’s only 9% to other Asians.
      http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/asianamericans-graphics/japanese/

      Though the NYT wrote a piece a couple of years ago saying more AAs are marrying each other.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/fashion/more-asian-americans-marrying-within-their-race.html?_r=0

      Wikipedia’s article on interracial marriage may have more answers for you. I haven’t read it though.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interracial_marriage_in_the_United_States

      “To feel trauma on behalf of a Vietnamese person when you are not Vietnamese is truly absurd and patronizing.”

      I think that’s called empathy but first you have to confirm the Vietnamese person is actually traumatized. This is what the protesters failed to do. Or maybe they only talked to one JA. Upon finding out that most JAs didn’t agree with them they just “deny, deny, deny.”

    2. Slam Dunk. I like your post and mainly agree with what you are saying. Spot on. But I have to differ on Japanese and Chinese hating each other. There are
      number of intermarriages between Japanese and Chinese in my neck of the
      woods. And a number of wonderful children borne of those marriages. So
      no hate there. There has also been a lot of cooperation between Japanese
      American and Chinese American organizations. But if we are talking
      about the Peoples Republic of China and Japan, then yeah there is
      tension, in fact there is tension between China and a number of
      Southeast Asian countries right now. Wouldn’t it be great if these
      tensions just confined themselves to Asia and stayed out our country??
      We can certainly hope for it, but unfortunately, sometimes international tensions play out in the most unexpected places in America.

      1. Yes, it shouldnt have been put so simplistically but I think the point being put here is that political climate is not pleasant, to put it mildly, and there are alarming sentiments on both sides (I work in both regions, it is equally as toxic on both sides). Of course there are intelligent, level-headed people who are not caught up this sentiment, and of course, if PRC and Japan were on friendlier terms, that would be wonderful. At the same time there is a lot of historical sludge that needs to be sorted out. The point is, you really can’t bundle the entirety of asia together. Because of these varying contexts, you cant possibly bundle asian american either. A Japanese American person can not possibly speak on behalf of an ABC with relatives who went through the cultural revolution, and they can not speak on behalf of say, a newly arrived couple from Singapore, who got offered a job at a bank, and a Catholica Philippina has a totally different experience, and what offends them is totally different to an Indonesian family who are muslim.
        It is great that these people can band together over certain issues in the US. That is marvellous. However, the fact that the Japanese and Japanese Americans who have counter protested are treated inconsequentially (when essentially the show is about their culture) completely misses the point of having the concept of an “Asian American” body in the first place.

        1. Hello kimono penguin. I think we agree on many points. Of course you cannot bundle the entirety of Asia together (I hope you don’t think I was implying that you could bundle), Nor can you ascribe an identical experience to different Asian ethnic groups who grew up in the states. You cannot even say all Chinese or all Japanese have a common experience. It depends on when the first generation to immigrate came. I totally agree with Slam Dunk and you that people should not lump Asians together. And one Asian group should not try to speak for another group. That is rude and condescending. I mentioned in another post that there is a level of solidarity among different Asian groups built by having cooperated with each other on various issues and problems common to Asians in America. HOWEVER, along with that solidarity there is (or was) an understanding that each group possesses a unique culture and groups must respect that and not step on each other’s toes. The protesters have violated that tradition by protesting, by undermining an interactive exhibit that Japanese people had planned and sunk a great deal of time and money into. I am quite aware of the tensions between Japan and the PRC, and also South Korea. (Senkakus, East China Sea, Sea of Japan vs East Sea, oil rigs, fishing rights, comfort women, textbooks, abductions by N. Korea. The list goes on.) But I am not so sure how those issues link with this kimono issue, at least at this point in the game. In working on this issue, I believe our main focus should be on doing the hard work of helping museums to come up with policies and procedures to prevent censorship from happening again. Meanwhile Americans need to have conversations about how to promote cultural appreciation and how to minimize cultural conflict.

          1. “It depends on when the first generation to immigrate came.”

            My Hawaii cousins have had a totally different life experience than I’ve had living on the East Coast.

          2. Keiko. I agree that the region of the U.S.A. where one was born and grew up was a factor, as was socio-economic situation, and I might add, whether your family was incarcerated or not.

    3. I disagreed with the original protesters, and I also agree with your point that people shouldn’t homogenize the experience of Asian-Americans or Asians in general. With that said, outright saying that there is no such thing as an “Asian experience” is also inaccurate. The idea of an “Asian experience” is very generic and may or may not be true depending upon the context of what one is talking about. Despite all of our differences, there are still uniting factors between Asians (in Asia or in the US) depending on the context, just as there would be between Europeans.

      In America, there certainly is a general Asian-American experience, as well as experiences specific to individual ethnic groups. You say you refuse to identify with other Asians because we are not the same, but Asian-American activists bound together specifically because we were homogenized and thus suffered much of the same plight. So while you may not identify with a Chinese-American, there have been many instances of Asian-Americans of one ethnic group suffering a hate crime due to racist attitudes towards another Asian ethnic group. A famous case is that of Vincent Chin, of Han Chinese descent, who was murdered over anti-Japanese sentiment. Also, just because you refuse to identify with other Asian ethnic groups, doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from decades of work by Asian-American activists of varying ethnicities.

      Rallying against the homogenization of Asians doesn’t mean you can never find common ground with other Asians or that an Asian-American experience or identity doesn’t exist. It all depends on the context.

  11. “Someone who doesn’t embody an experience does not get to tell those who do when, how, or why to protest.”

    Ryan, I feel you’ve hitched your wagon to the wrong horse. I don’t think the protesters get to tell Japanese and Japanese Americans when our culture is being appropriated and how we ought to feel about Kimono Wednesdays. Which is exactly what they’ve done. If you’ve not been following this since the beginning you may have missed that since they have changed direction several times since the beginning of their campaign.

    “What needs amplification, in this situation, are the historical and contemporary voices of people of the Asian diaspora,”

    So the voices of Japanese Americans, Japanese nationals living in the US, and Japanese in Japan should be diminished because others in the Asian diaspora are upset? This is what the protesters have tried to do to any J/JA who has tried to discuss their feelings on their Facebook pages after inviting the public to dialogue with them. They don’t dialogue, they shut down all critics by minimizing their lived experience. They have told Westerners with Japanese families that they can’t be part of their Japanese/Japanese American communities because they are white. I think that’s up to their local communities which apparently accept them. If the protesters aren’t willing to allow room for other voices in the Asian diaspora I’m not sure why they expect anyone to listen to them.

    “When the US government forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps during World War II, it was very much under the logic that they were not full citizens and humans, but perpetual others.”

    I find your (and the protesters’) use of the Japanese American incarceration in service of your arguments offensive. Where was the solidarity during the war? Chinese Americans were actively letting whites know they were not Japanese and “hate the Japs more than you do.”
    http://www.americanbar.org/publications/criminal_justice_magazine_home/crimjust_cjmag_17_2_japanese.html

    I get that it was a matter of survival for them but Chinese America very much benefited from not being incarcerated the way Japanese Americans were. Most major US cities have a Chinatown. We’re down to 3 Japantowns (LA, SF, San Jose) thanks to the incarceration. Chinese Americans have had an easier time preserving their language and cultural heritage because they didn’t feel the same kind of pressure that Japanese felt after the war to assimilate into American society. To now say this is an example of how AAs are oppressed to this day is disingenuous when many JAs such as Jan Morrill who have a family camp history don’t make that connection. I see far more commonalities between the treatment of Muslim Americans today than I do with current Asian diasporic experience in the US.

    I don’t deny that Asian Americans are still facing real problems, as detailed by Whirled Peas, but I don’t see the connection with Kimono Wednesdays. If that were true then why aren’t members of the Asian diaspora out protesting at Japanese matsuris (festivals) around the country every time there’s a kimono try-on or a table allowing little kids to design their own hachimaki (headband)? Aren’t we just perpetuating those same stereotypes by allowing white people to experience Japanese culture for fun without an hour-long history lecture on postcolonialism, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and the WWII JA incarceration?

    “What the protesters are railing against is the use of Japanese-ness and Asian-ness as a prop, both by Monet and the current “Kimono Wednesdays.” The kimono in question was stripped of its historical context first by the European gaze of Monet and second by a museum’s social media campaign. And though the reproduction kimono at the Boston MFA was commissioned by the Japanese TV company NHK, its use as a publicity prop within an American context troubles.”

    If the only way that the MFA ever presented Japanese art was as a prop to Western art I might support the protest. But Kimono Wednesdays is happening at a time when the museum is full to overflowing with Japanese art. They have been celebrating Japanese art all year long from Hokusai to modern photographers.
    http://www.mfa.org/programs/special-event/japanese-spring
    As I wrote on my blog I’m personally excited to see that Japanese art was brought into an Impressionist gallery. This uchikake replica doesn’t have some sort of sacred meaning in Japanese culture. It was a costume in what historians believe was a kabuki performance at the Exposition universelle de 1867. I’ve worked in theater and no one thinks costumes need to be treated as revered historical objects. They are costumes that are intended to be worn to transform the wearer and bring them to another time and place. Personally I was much more interested in the uchikake than the painting which I think is true for a lot of people who’ve seen them. Even if the MFA was framing them as props I think people take away what they want to from Kimono Wednesdays.

    “It is possible that “Asian American” is a tenuous coalition, and a holdover from another time — please let people of Asian descent decide whether that is true or not.”

    You seem to assume that only white people are saying that Asian Americans don’t get to decide this. While I’m happy to be in solidarity with other Asian Americans about things I agree are problems for all or most of us, I don’t appreciate being told that other Asian Americans are speaking on my behalf about things I’m not offended by and telling white people, again on my behalf, that they are racist for appropriating my culture.

  12. Ok, so. The Boston MFA puts on a superb Hokusai exhibit which I enjoyed immensely on a special trip to the East Coast (I am a big fan). They decide to build on it in their permanent impressionist exhibit to have a related “japonisme” influence on 19th century French Impressionism, being scrupulous about authentic representation of the period. They add to this some excitement for FREE entry museum goers of all races and creeds (American and foreigners) with the unique opportunity to try on a replica Kimono. I would think all the harm that what woud occur is that museum patrons would get excited about Japanese Art and traffic between the European gallery and the special Hokusai exhibit would in increase. And then all these excited people would encourage via social media and old fashioned word-of-mouth others in the community at large to go to the Museum to experience Japanese and European Art. LOOKS Cool to me for All involved! Everybody wins.

    Methinks that this a case fun/righteous/”holier than thou” protesters looking for any activity out there vaguely related to their original griefs to gloam onto. Kimono night was used to flex some muscle and scare some risk-adverse Museum aministrators and PR people. Ah, how good it feels to enjoy a victim’s validation power…

    Instead, affected Museum goers are not exposed to more Asian Art and will go home with negative experience of the whole messy episode, with only bad vibes to spread…

    The shame of it all… Makes me sad…

    1. I wouldn’t say the museum-goers are no longer exposed to more Asian art. The kimonos (uchikake) are still on display and can still be touched and admired for their aesthetic qualities. And the museum is packed with Japanese art. But I do think it’s sad the museum couldn’t just revise some aspects of their presentation and keep the kimono-wearing going. I think they may have gotten more communication from people besides the protestors about how the presentation seemed problematic. But the museum really should have sought out the overall opinions from people in Boston’s Japanese community, which would have told them that the greater majority of its members did not find it offensive. Would be nice if the Museum turned around now and said something like, “Back by Popular Demand…”

  13. If Millet’s Gleaners were on view with the opportunity to dress up as a French peasant and take a selfie, everyone would be pooping a brick over it and saying how gauche it is. I don’t understand why it is so hard to see that playing dress up in a museum, with something that is culturally significant to a group of people who have been, and still are, historically oppressed in the US, for cheap instagram thrills is not ok.

    I guess I also don’t understand why it is so hard to listen to people when they say that they find something offensive, and say ok when they want to have an in depth conversation about it. Its not like the protestors are demanding the painting be destroyed (which honestly, who would miss it? I don’t even think it is a particularly good Monet TBH). If you read their original demands, they really just want someone from the MFA to acknowledge the legacy of colonialism in that museum- and let me tell you, it is literally dripping with it.

    For example- because I think that this is related- on the special exhibitions section of the MFA’s website, next to the ad that asked people to “Channel Your Inner Camille & Flirt With the Exotic” there is another ad for a recent acquisition- rare sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, collected by the founder of Lehman Bros and donated to the museum. I don’t know what the history of these works are, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that some of them were not acquired in a way that was responsible. Do you think the museum will acknowledge that, or even really mention it at all? Doubtful. Especially when the MFA has also, in the past, fought super hard to keep un-restituted works (most famously a Kokoschka painting, reportedly sold under duress during the Anschluss in Austria).

    Its 2015. I think its time educational institutions start taking responsibility for this kind of stuff.

  14. This seems to be a very american-american thing. From where I stand – France – it is not very understandable, and I guess it won’t be either from far-east countries. Yet, I’m often shocked to see fake asians in american movies (maybe not recently), it shows quite well america’s deep problems with its own people of asian descent, and of course, a few wars caused that. France has issues about people’s origin, but it works deferently and that kimono story is, for many here, quite surreal.

      1. As a person raised in France with an American father and French Mother, and having spent my adult life in California, I will say that the impressionists were impressed, respectful and welcomed the new influx of all the ideas and concepts represented in Japanese art and were very open about giving credit to the innovations they did based on this art. Nowadays, when you visit Monet’s house in Giverny, what is striking is that there are what looks like a hundred original Ukiyo-e prints from Japan in every wall of the house swamping out any other art displayed on his walls. Van Gogh was also enthralled by these new perspectives and it helped him bring his Art to a whole new level ( e.g. showing interesting tree shape in the foreground obscuring part of the scene in away not usually done in Western art that I know of..)

        Anyway, going back to my previous post, artistic and cultural cross-pollination is so important to our future as humans that we should not build barriers and silos of exclusions, especially in this connected world ( certainly not make people feel guilty if they explorie other cultures and tell them hands off, go away…) We should recognize and accept our past history, root out things that are wrong (and there will always exist, since as we ALL live now in the present, we are innocently guilty of actions that will be considered totally reprehensible to our descendants a hundred years from now) and strive to build a better world from now on.

        My personable opinion about the puzzlement of French people over this tempest in a tea pot, is that while both French and American societies are quite diverse in terms of ethnic backgrounds, the French acculturation tends to transform an immigrant’s child into much more of a French person than in America where the vast majority of people are descendants of immigrants (voluntary and not) and the American acculturation is not as strong a force in erasing the ascendant culture (you will find in America descendents of Europeans, Asians, etc.. who are still observing ancestral ethnic customs that have come into disuse decades, sometime centuries ago in their respective country of origin) [as a parenthesis, we know what the immigrants did to the American indigenous cultures to ensure that they would not have a chance to be dominant culturally or otherwise]

        On to a better world with less acrimony, you all, signing off, Terry

        1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I think in America many ethnic groups like to hold on to their homeland’s culture perhaps due to nostalgia or homesickness but also sometimes because they feel it is superior to American culture. I don’t feel like America has any strong traditions and when I asked my white friends if there is an American culture with which they identify they said no. Sometimes they adopt cultural practices from the region of the US they are from but otherwise if traditions are not handed down within their family they seem to feel a bit like they are missing something. I wonder if it is different in France because there is a much deeper cultural tradition for people to adopt. America is so large that practices vary widely by region and do not seem strongly rooted. Except for perhaps our sport culture. 🙂

      2. Wow, you’re right, it happened recently !
        Even if I’m french, I don’t feel like owning Monet’s art, you know, it belongs to the whole humanity 🙂
        What I know is that french artists of his times, who recently discovered japan art (Japan only started to trade again with the rest of the world, after years of attacks… from the young USA – for the USA, refusing trading was too odd and deserved massive destructions), were very found of it : Lautrec, Bonnard, Vuillard,.. Even though this peculiar painting is maybe mocking the european japan-mania, I visites Monet’s home in Giverny and it is full of wonderful art by Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige, etc. (that came in europe as paper to pack porcerlain !). What I know, whar I’m sure of, is that european love for japanese art was very sincere.

        1. “Even if I’m french, I don’t feel like owning Monet’s art, you know, it belongs to the whole humanity :-)”

          That is very generous of you! May I share this quote on my blog? 🙂 I am working on a post about the idea of cultural appropriation and whether or not some of us are too possessive of what we think is our culture.

          “What I know, whar I’m sure of, is that european love for japanese art was very sincere.”

          Thank you for sharing this. I have read similar comments elsewhere and also read that the admiration from Japanese artists was mutual. It seems that even today Japan is in love with France. I often see French-themed Japanese office products (stationery, pens, notepads, etc.). A Japanese American friend told me that when he went to the Musée de l’Orangerie it was full of Japanese tourists. I heard that the Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan exhibition where La Japonaise was exhibited in Japan was extremely popular at the 3 Japanese museums it went to.
          http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2014/06/25/arts/openings-in-tokyo/looking-east-western-artists-allure-japan-museum-fine-arts-boston/

          1. I think there is something like love between Japan and France (we never actualy had a war, that changes a lot). Down here, kids read mangas a lot, my daughter goes to “Japan expo”, a huge convention for Japan culture fans, and some of my students whose parents come from Africa know better medieval Japan than they know their own parents home countries ! It seems that japanese like french words (they sometime use them in a quite funny way), and some aspects of french culture such as fashion, music (lots of french musicians end their career in Japan) or 1960s movies.
            I wrote a blog paper about culture appropriation, but unfortunatly, you won’t be able to read it, as it is in french : http://hyperbate.fr/dernier/?p=10470 – perhaps the images will give you an idea of it. What I say there is that we all like to dream an “elsewhere” to put our hopes and fantasies, and that is the point with exotism : beeing an european dreaming about a fantasy Japan is a right (japanese can’t do that), as dreaming about a fantasy europe cannot be done by europeans.
            For me, the human specie is one (only cattle animals have races – an artificial way to perpetuate precise characteristics), the earth is a lonely little rock lost in a huge dark and maybe sadly sterile universe. Diversity of cultures in a so small world is something beautiful, but it’s a pitty when it becomes a reason to fight, to hate the other… We don’t live long, the world is beautiful, no one of us will ever have time enough to see it all, to meet all nice people, so why bothering being bitter, jealous, etc. ?

          2. Actually I studied français for 7 years from middle school (grade 7) until uni so I will try to read it. Google Translate also does a decent job with French. I can’t speak French conversationally any more but still remember some vocabulary. 🙂

            I did not know that Japanese culture is still very popular in France!

            “What I say there is that we all like to dream an “elsewhere” to put our hopes and fantasies, and that is the point with exotism : beeing an european dreaming about a fantasy Japan is a right (japanese can’t do that), as dreaming about a fantasy europe cannot be done by europeans.”

            This is so interesting! I was talking to a white American friend who grew up in Japan about the singer Katy Perry’s American Music Awards performance in 2013 which many Asian Americans called cultural appropriation and yellowface and she said she didn’t agree. Her comments were almost exactly the same as yours. Here is the performance if you haven’t seen it:

            “Diversity of cultures in a so small world is something beautiful, but it’s a pitty when it becomes a reason to fight, to hate the other… We don’t live long, the world is beautiful, no one of us will ever have time enough to see it all, to meet all nice people, so why bothering being bitter, jealous, etc. ?”

            This is a beautiful sentiment.

          3. I didn’t know Katy Perry’s performance. It is of course a cliché of Japan, and I’m sure that for japanese people (not japanese-americans), it is funny, maybe clumsy in the details, and it will be received as a tribute, not as a way to steal one’s culture nor to insult it in anyway. Do white american persons get upset when they see a country music festival in Japan, France or Finland ?
            I studied propaganda, and I saw american posters showing japanese as insects, monsters, etc. Well that wasn’t benevolent at all, it was ment to say : “we have the right to exterminate them, they’re not humans” (a south corean friend of mine told me she learned at kids school that communists had horns on their head !). Horrible, so I can understand what makes japanese-americans careful… But it’s not fair to compare Katy Perry in a kimono with WWII horrible propaganda.

          4. a fun fact : when my older daughter was ten, I noticed she was watching japanese movies (Miyazaki) with paper to write what she heard and understood… So she learned japanese with DVDs ! Then she took courses and did very well in japanese for her graduation. My Youger daughter and her gang has been shown on NHK, because they dress every day as some Tokyo’s district girls… But they are not so specific, loads of kids love Japan, you can watch this : http://www.bfmtv.com/mediaplayer/video/japan-expo-2015-a-la-decouverte-de-la-culture-japonaise-578204.html – they say here that France is the second biggest market for mangas after Japan ! But I also know french kids who love Korea (and learn korean, and know all about k-pop)…

          5. Wow, that’s impressive. I have heard that many people who live in non-English speaking countries learn English through American television and movies. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about people learning Japanese through Miyazaki!

            I had no idea that cosplay and manga were so popular in France. K-pop and K-drama seem to be becoming more popular outside of Korea as well.

          6. I had quite a lot of students who learned japanese (or at least japanese culture) through anime, and who spend much time to create subtitles for rare anime series. I’m sure it’s quite common 🙂

          7. “Do white american persons get upset when they see a country “music festival in Japan, France or Finland ?”

            I don’t think so but many Americans don’t feel much affinity with some aspects of American culture. I heard that cowboys are popular in Germany. My friend said he saw a German band in Berlin playing American country music. He thought it was funny, but he doesn’t identify with cowboy culture.

            “I studied propaganda, and I saw american posters showing japanese as insects, monsters, etc.”

            Dehumanization of any minority group is a common tactic.

            ” But it’s not fair to compare Katy Perry in a kimono with WWII horrible propaganda.”

            Definitely what Katy Perry and other musicians do is very different from WWII propaganda but I think the reason many Asian Americans take offense is because it reminds them of the propaganda and other problematic portrayals of Asians in American and European cinema, television, and theater. I think maybe sometimes we are too sensitive but because we don’t have much representation in the media and culture at large it makes it harder to accept that the representation we do have is often the fantasy of a white person. I think this is part of the point the protesters are trying to make but I don’t agree that Kimono Wednesdays is part of the larger problems.

  15. DECOLONIZE CHINATOWNS U.S.A !!! Ryan, if you and your group are sincere about eradicating orientalia, then we beg you to take control of the thousands of Chinese cultural objects being appropriated by non-Chinese every day from Chinatowns across our nation. Start in New York City: (#1) Picket each and every New York Chinatown souvenir store. Hold up signs in English and Chinese saying “Non-Chinese are not permitted to buy Chinese souvenirs,” and “Decolonize our Chinatowns.” (#2) Struggle earnestly but politely with Chinatown shop owners to “decolonize their stores.” Ask them not to cater to white fetishism for orientalist products. Be prepared because they may claim that you are RUINING THEIR BUSINESS AND LIFE. Never mind. Tell them it is not correct to put mere money ahead of the righteous campaign to purify Chinatown of orientalism. (#3) If shop owners do not comply after two days of struggle, take drastic measures like (#4) At night send round a team of your friends to use wheat paste to hang dàzìbào (big character posters) all over Chinatown, Little Italy, Tribeca, Soho, and the Lower East Side. The big character posters should denounce non-compliant shop keepers as unrepentant running dogs of western imperialism, orientalism, and foreign fetishism. Watch out for the NYPD.(#5) The dàzìbào big character posters should demand shop keepers do public “self-criticism” for promoting the “orientalist gaze” with their chinoiserie goods (like cheongsam esp those sexy fitted quipao, silk jackets, Tang dynasty robes, fans, paper lanterns slippers, straw hats and beanies, etc.) (#6) Since Alibaba.com is one of the biggest purveyers of orientalia in the world, write to CEO Jack Ma and demand he post a prominent sign on his website that “No non-Chinese is allowed to buy anything that smacks of Chinoiserie.” Figure out a way to enforce that. (#7) For your convenience here are images of many NY Chinatown shops you can start with. After you conquer the vestiges of colonialism in NY Chinatown, there are Chinatowns in LA, SF, Chicago, and other cities to keep you busy for a lifetime. 😉 (Brought to you by the ghosts of China’s “Great” Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

    NY Orientalism happening here in Chinatown shops: https://www.google.com/search?q=chinatown+new+york+souvenir+shops&biw=1144&bih=646&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAmoVChMIgey7rNj3xgIVyCqICh1iIAZX

    1. Whirled Peas, you are hilarious. I laughed so hard I had trouble breathing.

      We have a Chinatown in Boston too! It is definitely full of all the chinoiserie goods you describe as well as white folks going to get their fix of “authentic” Chinese cuisine. Some shop and restaurant owners do seem to pay more regard to Asian customers and treat us better but there’s no way they could survive without the non-Asian customers.

  16. Wtf?

    Do these bloggers live in Japan?

    It’s fireworks season. My Facebook page is full of pictures of non-Japanese dressed in yukata. No permission sought as far as I can see.

    1. “Do these bloggers live in Japan?”

      Only two of them are from Japan with only one still living there. The rest are from the Japanese diaspora.
      http://thisisnotjapan.tumblr.com/post/39701055486/faq

      Their Tumblr is full of amazing ridiculous nonsense like telling a non-Japanese woman that it would be awful to give her a child a Japanese name and telling another person that their white aunt who has a Japanese husband shouldn’t adopt Japanese habits like “excessively using Japanese phrases” and wearing a kimono because that’s cultural appropriation. I’m pretty sure if your spouse is Japanese you’re going to have to learn some Japanese phrases at a minimum (possibly even become fluent) so you can communicate with them and their family if they don’t speak much English. You will pick up Japanese habits whether you want to or not, because your spouse may insist that you do. (I say this as the daughter of a Japanese man and an Okinawan American woman.)

      Although they also share articles on more serious issues:
      http://thisisnotjapan.tumblr.com/post/118482711902/historically-japan-is-no-stranger-to-blacks-nor
      Some white person I know sent me that link with the comment “The Japanese have their own problems with race:”

  17. Why can you not just enjoy art for art’s sake? You and your protester peers are acting like philistines, these things have a value in themselves; they are not vehicles for your petty identity politics. None of you are Japanese and Japanese onlookers are suspicious and confused that all these westernized Koreans and Chinese are taking shots at a Japanese culture event. Some of the comments on the Japanese blogs are not nice to say the least, this garbage about starting discussions about Asian American oppression has been nothing but divisive drivel. Not everyone cares about your imagined struggle against white supremacy, its gotten to the point one can feel the disdain you have for “wealthy old white people”. We get it, you hate white people and are triggered by them doing innocuous things. If seeing people of the wrong colored skin experiencing trying on a colorful foreign garment forces you to feel bad, that’s your problem. Maybe you should be less of a bigot and recognize those people are not representing team “wealthy old white people” but just people having fun who don’t deserve to be harangued as imperialist racists by idiot college students.

    Nor are feelings ever grounds to censor an exhibition or prevent an event, we can’t possibly take every offended person seriously nor should we. I have no reason to take your rationalizations for why events should be stopped due to personal opinion over anyone else, to me these people are as credible as the Westboro Baptists Church. I don’t want to live in a world where things as harmless as this are harassed out of existence, no one has the right to not be offended; I wish the MFA wouldn’t have enabled these mental patients.

  18. I protest the use of “European male artist”.

    I couldn’t give a damn about old man Monet…err… I kinda like the Water Lilies and Impression Sunrise, but he could’ve been a she in my book compared to… say… manly Serra.

    (Of course, this post is just for fun. Contain your hatred!)

  19. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a white person wearing kimono or taking part in cultures and customs of a people that has been oppressed and colonized by white people is going to be problematic no matter what.

    How odd to read that phrase applied to the Japanese. After all, Japan has never been colonized by anyone (rather the opposite, of course) and was “oppressed by white people” only for a period of occupation after a war that it started.

  20. Dear Ryan,

    Thank you for this considered and intelligent response to my article. I want to thoughtfully respond and In doing so want to do some grammatical housekeeping first. You have put a couple phrases in quotes that I don’t believe I used in my article. I’m not clear on whether you are quoting me. It’s a seeming picayune point but gets to something larger. I don’t believe I wrote “confused thinking”. In truth the piece was titled that way without my say so. I wrote that the thinking of the protesters was generally shoddy and myopic. I still stand behind that position. I want to ask “what’s the end game when the museum runs scared?” Mind you, I’m not blaming the protesters for that. I blame the museum. However, I still think the protesters are short sighted. Has the museum publicly engaged with the protesters? Have they honestly made that a possibility? I’m really asking. They make the museum change the event, but are they contributing to a notion that institutions should be afraid of dealing with charged symbols and difficult histories? Don’t go gently into that good night. I also didn’t use the term “cultural cops.” This part of my article I personalized. I said I didn’t want to act as cultural police, and said that therefore the view of culture that the protesters seem to hold is not one I want to adopt. I think it’s impoverished.

    Moving past the defensiveness about my writing: I don’t think this conversation belongs on the footing of a notion of rights. I find that a dead end. All that notion does is give us carte blanche to act, but does not ethically empower us to seriously consider our actions and their ramifications.

    I disagree when you say it is the “job” of those outside the experience of oppression to listen. It’s a small point but an important one. It’s an opportunity, not a job. They can and if they don’t they can be checked, and should be. However, If we go into culture treating it like a set of obligations and responsibilities alone, we miss the chance to see more.

    You say “when we ask white people to give us back control of our image … we are struggling for our livelihoods” Again, a small but telling difference. It’s not one image. There are several images of Asians in the current cultural American experience, and the assumption the protesters seem to make is that there is a primary image with racist overtones, the propagation of which was facilitated by this event and must be resisted. I’m not convinced the kimono projects this one image of the Asian diaspora.

    I think the introduction of trauma theory makes your argument slightly questionable. It presumes a kind of social psychology that is modeled on human psychology, and it’s not clear that the theory as a methodology for examining collective responses is sound.

    The unified identity of Asian American is perfectly reasonable to form under the historical conditions of America’s systematic racism. I would simply submit that not every case of cultural appropriation warrants the use of that political apparatus. It seems to me that in this instance the conflation of identities yields less coherence rather than more, and allows indignation to run the table. You can exist in the American context and recognize its pernicious effects and (perhaps) not be entirely shaped by it.

    I still believe that the protesters’ anger prevented them from clarity. I hope this is helpful.

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