Katsuhisa NAKAGAKI

explanatory notes
In his younger years, Nakagaki was not a politically active artist. He found it impossible, however, to endure the offensive historical revisionism of the Shinzo Abe government in silence and created, among other works, the Round Barrow piece, to which many small pieces of paper are attached bearing political statements. Before an exhibition in the Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo, the curator had one of the statements removed. Thanks to the support of the Galerie Murata & Friends, Berlin, the uncensored work can be shown in the current exhibition.

Nakagaki Katsuhisa – born in 1944 in Gifu, Japan – studied sculpture at the Tokyo University of the Arts. He was known for his bronze sculptures which reflected a traditional understanding of art for many years.
In 1968, he reached the M.A at the Tokyo University of the Arts. In 1986, he won the Grand Prize of Rodin at Hakone Open-Air Museum and 1988 the special Open Air Sculpture Prize, Nagoya. His current work represents a radical break with his previous art and provoked the hostility of radical nationalists and even scorn from the Japanese art world (in 2013 he was expelled from the Shinseisaku Association).
His installation “Portrait of the Period – Endangered Species Idiot JAPONICA – Round Burial Mound,” for instance, launched an intense debate over the freedom of opinion and was not allowed to be shown in its entirety at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The piece was first able to be shown uncensored abroad in 2014 at the gallery Murata & Friends in Berlin. Currently Nakagaki works as emeritus director of HIDA Municipal Museum and Katsuhisa Nakagaki Museum.

Statements - Removed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

Nakagaki Katsuhisa

Statement 01

There are thoughts of re-arming in order to prevent an invasion by other countries. But such an international power struggle can only lead to the suppression or to the hostility of the other side. Japan has, it is true, established the idea of a renunciation of war in its Constitution, but was Japan ever truly committed to a more profound renunciation of war on the basis of humanist thinking and to considering the life of others as just as important as our own? Japan’s situation is said to have changed. After the World War, however, we concerned ourselves exclusively with the development of the economy and failed to concern ourselves with developing a peaceful world. And not only that: our economic warfare has led to many losers. Japan should stop coming into confrontation with others by re-armament. As a country that destroyed other countries and itself by war, Japan should become a country that stands resolutely for the idea that war is a mistake.

statement 04

removed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

  • Japan is at present sick.
  • We want to defend Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, to recognize the stupidity of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, to stop the right-wing orientation of the current Japanese Government and to call for considered politics. The people must become much more intelligent. The people need to learn much more. (in red)
  • We must understand the stupidities of our USA-alligned foreign policy. (in blue)

statement 06

What neighbouring countries want from Japan.

Japan should
  • Reform Article 9 of the Constitution as soon as possible,
  • Establish a national army to wage wars,
  • Re-name the Japanese islands, which are at present an American base, »American Military Base State Japan«,
  • Build even more nuclear power plants,
  • Get used to radiation,
  • As a paramount task of nationalist education, employ athletes successful in the Olympics and judoka as teachers,
  • At mealtimes watch the programmes and actors of incredibly low-grade private TV stations and at the New Year »Kohaku Uta Gassen«,
  • Revere the Yasukuni Shrine,
  • Never have deep thoughts,
  • Walk the path of decline.

The Distorted Public Sphere in Japan – A Censored Artwork of Nakagaki Katsuhisa

Arai Hiroyuki

Restored Onbashira

Requiem for the Victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake
2011, H140 x W150 x D150cm

okai Fudaraku Boat in Japan, the Age of Decadance

2013, H 150 cm x W 400 cm x D 120 cm

If you want to come to know the current state of Japan’s democracy and of the national art scene, you need only look at Nakagaki Katsuhisa‘s artwork »Portrait of the Period – Endangered Species idiot JAPONICA – Round barrow«. It was shown at the 7th Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Sculptors held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in February in 2014. It has a hemispherical shape, collaged with his statements and press releases on the surface. But Komuro Akiko, former deputy director of the museum, forced Nakagaki to eliminate one of these statements1. The content of the eliminated statement was as follows,

»We should respect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution!«, »Admit imbecility of visiting Yasukuni shrine!«, »Stop the Abe administration2 from shifting to the right!«, »We need more intellectual and thoughtful politics...«

Article 9 is known in Japan as the clause in the Peace Constitution outlawing war as a means of settling international conflicts. Nakagaki was asked by Komuro at first to remove his artwork from the exhibition space; then she suggested that he should have removed all statements and newspaper clippings glued on its the surface. But he would not follow her instructions at all: all he could do was just pass her a marker pen and ask her this time to paint them over herself to prevent them from being seen by visitors. The result and the compromise reached between the artist and the museum through argument was that he could show his work but that one statement (see above) had to be removed from it and the artwork would have to be removed from the exhibition space if a single complaint was heard.

The exhibition was presented by the Contemporary Japanese Sculptors League (Nakagaki is a representative), which paid rent for use of the museum space. The exhibitoin was not curated by the museum. The museum guideline which caused Komuro’s censorship of Nakagaki prohibits lease of exhibition space for any projects which have the purpose of supporting or opposing specific political and religious activities. Komuro simply insisted repeatedly that Nakagaki’s criticism of the Abe administration and the Yasukuni Shrine was in conflict with the guideline.

Let us now take a second look at Nakagaki‘s artwork in order to understand the case better. He intentionally tries to bring the feudalistic character of Japanese society to light by applying religious and historic motifs throughout his artworks while referring at the same time to topical issues. »Tokai Fudaraku boat in Japan, the age of Decadence« has as its motif the radical Buddhist custom of employing »self-murder« or suicide to enter Nirvana. In Japan suicide cases have increased under the influence of heavy economic disparity. But Nakagaki found some antinomic enthusiasm for Utopia (next world) in the depressive feeling of the suicide and depicted it. »Restored Onbashira – Requiem for Departed of the Great Japan Earthquake« referred to the prayer for resurrection in use in a phallic cult in Japan.

Looking back on Japan’s modern history, only ruins could be seen at the end of World War II as the result of »modernization«. Citizens were unable to develop a democracy capable of stopping Japan’s hegemonistic policy of colonialization and war. This is the reason why Nakagaki has an interest in pre-modern people’s energy as dissidents. In the past, this energy sometimes transformed a religious sect like Omoto, which was suppressed by the authorities in the 1920’s and 30’s because of its faith with an anti-Tenno (Japanese Emperor) theological inclination.

»Portrait of the Period« in the form of a Kohun (ancient tomb) consists of similar dissident elements. Presumably the Kohun is to refer to local customs in the ancient era and also to the Tenno system with its long history. The Rising Sun flag is attached to the top and the Stars and Stripes is placed on the inside base. This structure symbolizes the idea that Japan is a puppet state under the control of the US in the name of the Alliance. The surface of the Kohun has a bricolage appearance with statements and press cuttings roughly treated with a certain purpose. This primitive appearance with a Simenawa (Shinto ritual utensil) implies people’s rebellious intention and at the same time their power against the political authorities. But remember, the museum’s regulations state that religious activity is also prohibited.

The artist – Nakagaki Katzuhisa

in front of his work »Portait of th Period« in the Gallery Murata & Friends in Berlin
October 2014, Photo: Tsukasa Yamima

Detail image from »Portrait of Period«

Photo: Tsukasa Yamima

On the one hand, the news media reported Nakagaki’s case, but on the other hand art critics remained quiet. There are two reasons why they didn’t react to the incident.

The first is that they meticulously choose which artists and topics to mention. In Japan there are several segmented art groups. If they dared to protect the rights of some artists, the reason would be that they were committed to the artists and intent on preserving their own interest. Few of them literally believe that freedom of speech must be guaranteed to everyone by the Japanese Constitution.

The second is that they avoid mentioning political topics intentionally, whenever possible. Only when avoidance is impossible do they attempt to broach the issue, but even then only indirectly, just within instituted aesthetics and without touching on social reality.

Outside Japan, we often encounter many sorts of political artworks in shows like Art Basel or various international Biennales for example. Its immaturity and the absence of freedom of speech and criticism, however, mean that Japan cannot be allowed to take an important role in staging such exhibitions reflecting modern art trends.

Concerning the meaning of »the public sphere« in Japan, the museum‘s guideline represents two distinctive features. One is that homogeneity is regarded as more important in a public space. The second is that the dominance of public space should be linked with political authority. Artworks, lectures, events dealing with the Article 9 controversy, for example, were recently eliminated or banned in public spaces by many local authorities.

The above cases occurred because of the lack of heterogeneity in Japan’s public sphere. We Japanese citizens should concern ourselves for heterogeneity in the sense of the »Autonomous Public Sphere« of Jürgen Habermas or the »Counterpublics« of Nancy Fraser.

The association in the sense of the NPO as advocated by Habermas has a societally integrative role in gathering together citizen power and coordinate citizens and government. This model of ambiguous NPOs has developed over the past 20 years in Japan. But it has been inclined to lose autonomy and to side with the authorities. And the political shift to ultra-conservatism led by prime minister ABE Shinzo and his comrades is today fostering an anti-democratic tendency. The censorship and control imposed on Nakagaki and the concomitant suppression of freedom of expression, occurred under these social and political conditions.

Securing »plurality« (as Hannah Arendt advocated) in Japanese society is indispensable to counteract the censorship imposed on Nakagaki.

1 Article 9 of the constitution bans war as a means for resolving international conflicts and forbids Japan from maintaining an army.

2 The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a Shinto shrine which commemorates various fallen soldiers, begining in 1868 with the Tenno Soldiers and also those of other nations, lasting until today. Its meaning as a symbol of the warlike principles of the Meiji Tradition is controversial, and because the shrine also honours those convicted of war crimes. Visits by prime ministers in an official capacity lead without fail to demonstrations. Premier Shinzo Abe was the last to visit the shrine in December 2013.


statement 02

statement 03

statement 05

statement 07


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