The Museum of Fine Arts Boston announced it is changing its interactive kimono-wearing exhibit following criticism from protestors, who over the past two weeks have said it appropriates, rather than appreciates, Japanese culture.
The MFA released a statement about the change on their website Tuesday afternoon.
The museum had been inviting patrons to wear an uchikake kimono – a formal Japanese garment - and pose for pictures in front of a painting called “La Japonaise,” by Claude Monet. The 1876 impressionist work depicts Monet’s wife Camille wearing a similar outfit and donning a blonde wig, which museum descriptions say is a commentary on the West’s obsession with Japanese culture in the 19th century.
Now, the MFA will allow visitors to touch, but not wear, the outfit.
"When the MFA’s painting, La Japonaise by Claude Monet, travelled throughout Japan for an exhibition, historically accurate reproduction kimonos were made for visitors to try on. When the painting returned to Boston and a similar program was introduced at the MFA, we heard concerns from some members of our community, and as a result, we’ve decided to change our programming," the statement reads. "We apologize for offending any visitors, and welcome everyone to participate in these programs on Wednesday evenings, when Museum admission is free. We look forward to continuing the Museum’s long-standing dialogue about the art, culture and influence of Japan."
The original spectacle did not sit well with one group of observers, who have been holding signs in a museum showroom on Wednesdays the past two weeks.
“If you’re talking about the cultural experience of Japanese culture,” said demonstrator Christina Wang, “the kimono, or uchikake, can be appreciated without this parade of putting it on and taking selfies in front of a painting. That isn’t really contemporary critical analysis.”
On a Facebook events page called Stand Against Yellow-Face @ the MFA, over 200 said they would take part in a protest July 8 at the museum.
It was not immediately clear if the protest was still set to go forward.
Protests have been small – so far involving just a handful of sign-holders – but the effort was gaining momentum.
The demonstrators’ concerns saw shout-outs on popular blog Angry Asian Man and artnet News and were being amplified in other media.
The kimono promotion was not the only issue with Asian culture’s presence at the museum, Wang said. Many of the items are tied to colonialism, looting and the history of unfair treatment of Asian countries, she said.
“We could protest everything in the museum to some extent,” she said. “The reason why this particular event is so offensive is the invitation for the public to participate in this farce.”
Protestors last week posted a picture of what appeared to be a printed statement from museum staff, which reads, in part, "We don't think this is racist."
A press representative for the MFA, though, told Metro the print-out was a private document intended to be "talkig points" for staff people, and was not written for public distribution.
“We don’t think this is racist," the document reads. "We hope visitors come away with a better understanding of how Japanese art influenced the impressionists like Monet. However, we respect everyone’s opinion and welcome dialogue about art and culture in the Museum.”
Wang and Ames Siyuan, who hosted the Facebook event page, said they are drafting a response, which they plan to post on Tumblr.
Before the MFA’s announcement late Tuesday afternoon, Siyuan told Metro protests would likely continue until the museum removes the exhibit, until its run ends at the end of the month, or perhaps longer, Siyuan said, adding the demonstrations could be a springboard for broader discussion about Asian-Americans and race.
“What we want to focus on is the Asian-American experience in America and how this event participates in the erasure of Asian-American history in the US,” Siyuan said. “We are type-casted and stereotyped. … We are mis-appropriated by the system and by individuals.”