Ahn Sehong’s work is on show, so go and see it.

Today I went to see Ahn Sehong (安世鴻, 안세홍)’s show 重重 (Layer by Layer, 겹겹, Gyeobgyeob, Jūjū), on Koreans in China who had been “comfort women” for the Japanese military about seventy years ago.

It’s an odd show: one passes by three security guards on the way to the room, and is given a once-over with a metal detector when entering, and in the room there are security guards, Nikon employees, and also other staff affiliated with Ahn. But everybody is very polite, and trying not to get in others’ way.

The photos are good. Some of the subjects are very frail indeed, making Ahn’s task difficult; but all in all the photos are satisfying. They’re on warm paper and are somewhat mushy (which is surely deliberate): I wish they’d instead been on the kind of paper usually used for exhibitions (deep black, etc), but perhaps that’s just me. The photos don’t have explanations or even captions, which seems a pity. There’s a text in Japanese and English on the wall. This is so political that, um, the Japanese version at one point euphemistically describes the women as 朝鮮人元日本軍慰安婦 (i.e. Korean comfort women of the former Japanese military) but makes no other mention of Japan; while the English text doesn’t mention Japan at all. Note for the slow-witted: This means that (contrary to what has been claimed) the exhibition isn’t political in the slightest, though I suppose that if you’ve been a credulous consumer of the kind of whitewashed histories that most Japanese governments have more or less openly wanted taught in Japan, or if you have somehow managed to take far-right haranguing seriously, you might hallucinate something political about the show.

Here’s a report from Fotgazet about yesterday. For those who can’t read Japanese text: the first three photos there are of the exhibition space (on the 28th floor); the fourth is I think of the second floor (thanks to elevated walkways outside, perhaps a more widely used way in than the first floor), and the point is that Nikon is advertising the other, smaller show (see below) but not mentioning Ahn’s show. This was unchanged today.

As usual the exhibition space is divided into two. Ahn has the larger room. The smaller one is for this, by ten members of the Department of Photography, Nihon University. The only way you can enter the smaller show is via the larger one. When planning their show, the Nihon University team can hardly have imagined that would-be viewers would be subjected to a security check (however polite). I felt a bit sorry for them and went in. There’s plenty of technique on view there; what’s done with it is of widely varying appeal to me. I enjoyed the works of four of the exhibitors, which is pretty good going — four out of ten is a far higher success rate than I get from, say, books published by Akaaka. This exhibition runs till 3 pm on Monday, so be sure to see it when you see Ahn’s.

More to look at and read:

  • some of the photographs
  • “Court orders Nikon to allow ‘comfort women’ exhibition”, Asahi Shinbun, 23 June; here, WebCite backup
  • Olivier Laurent, “Judge rules against Nikon in controversial ‘comfort women’ case”, British Journal of Photography, 27 June; here
  • Miho Inada, “Judge orders Nikon to hold ‘comfort women’ photo exhibit”, Wall Street Journal, 25 June; here, WebCite backup
  • Antoni Żółciak, “Sąd w Tokio nakazuje Nikonowi otwarcie wystawy ‘comfort women’”, SwiatObrazu.pl, 26 June; here
  • “‘Comfort women’ exhibition goes ahead amid protests”, Asahi Shinbun, 26 June; here; WebCite backup
  • Jung Nam-ku, “Amid tension, Nikon photo exhibit goes ahead”, The Hankyoreh, 27 June; here
  • “‘Comfort women’ show makes Nikon uncomfortable but not Tokyo courts”, Japan Subculture Research Center, 28 June; here
  • “Comfort women photographer pleased by Japan court”, Bangkok Post, 28 June; here
  • right-wing fantasists
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