Last Friday in Germany, the activist group Angry Asian Girls Association led a protest at the foundation C/O Berlin timed with the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki. The protest was intended to bring attention to allegations made by the Japanese model Kaori, who said in an online post earlier this year that, when Araki photographed her, he did so without a contractual agreement and sometimes did not pay her money owed. “He treated me like an object,” Kaori wrote, adding that she felt compelled to come forward as part of the #MeToo movement. (Araki declined requests for comment at the time from other publications, including the New York Times.)
At last week’s protest, attendees carried signs reading “ARE YOU SURE YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS CORRECT?”—in reference to an Asahi Camera magazine cover that featured a portrait of Kaori shot by Araki alongside those words. In a Facebook event post for the protest, Angry Asian Girls Association wrote, “Now is the time to seek . . . new terrain in the Art world, getting past through the times of sexual exploitations by male predators. C/O Berlin, on the other hand, is still organizing and hosting the exhibition of Nobuyoshi Araki, who has gained fame and reputation by exploiting female models.” (Angry Asian Girls Association has not responded to numerous requests for comment from ARTnews.)
In response, C/O Berlin, in a statement sent to ARTnews, said, “Nobuyoshi Araki’s work provokes strong emotions and polarizes viewers—in Germany today just as it did in Japan when it first appeared. C/O Berlin takes critique of artists and artistic work in the context of the international Me Too debate very seriously. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to join this debate by writing their opinions in our Guest Book or sharing their views online with the hashtag #arakidebate.”
Angry Asian Girls Association said on Facebook that they had submitted a complaint to C/O Berlin on November 30 and asked to learn whether the show’s curators—Stephan Erfurt, C/O Berlin’s CEO, and Felix Hoffmann, the foundation’s chief curator—had considered Kaori’s claims when putting together the show. AAGA said that they received a response from Hoffmann, who told the group that no photographs of Kaori were included in the exhibition and that the model should have been aware of Araki’s practice ahead of working with him.
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The exhibition, titled “Nobuyoshi Araki: Impossible Love—Vintage Photographs,” features early pictures dating back to 1965 as well as photocollages and works from his series “Flower / Doll, Sky / Winds.” “His extreme intimacy with the subjects and the situations depicted is unique and revolutionary,” a C/O Berlin exhibition description reads. That description does not mention Kaori’s allegations.
Araki has long been considered one of Japan’s most important photographers, considered alongside Daido Moriyama as one of the foremost chroniclers of the country’s changing sexual mores during the 1960s and ’70s. He has produced more than 400 books of his photographs and shown all over the world. But the 78-year-old photographer has recently come under fire for the subject matter of his pictures, which do not shy away from graphic sexual activities. Bondage and fetishism are frequent subjects in his work. (Araki’s studio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
A recent survey of the artist’s work at the Museum of Sex in New York attempted to grapple with the complex nature of Araki’s photographs. Texts in that show were explicit about how Araki and his models sometimes have sex, and how some of his models have given “absolute consent” to the artist.
With its protest in Berlin, Angry Asian Girls Association said it wants to critique the idea of women becoming objectified when seen as male artists’ muses. “We demand changes in the art industry’s structure, which only wants to limit women to be the ‘Muse’ to inspire male artists,” they wrote on Facebook. “We demand changes in the organizations and institutions which agree to strengthen the structures.”