A demonstration outside the C/O foundation, Berlin, led by activist group Angry Asian Girls Association, coincided with the opening of the exhibition ‘Impossible Love—Vintage Photographs’, by Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. In protest of the treatment of Japanese model, Kaori, who has worked with Araki for 16 years, wrote a blog post in April, outlining the emotional bullying she faced working under the photographer, stating she was treated like an object. In her post she claims Araki never signed her to a professional contract, ignored her requests for privacy during photo shoots, failed to inform her when pictures of her were published or displayed and often did not pay her. In an interview in Tokyo, Kaori felt inspired to speak out against the mistreatment of power under Araki, feeling empowered by the recent #MeeToo movement.
During the protest, demonstrators carried signs reading “are you sure your knowledge is correct?”— referencing the Asahi Camera magazine cover that featured a portrait of Kaori shot by Araki alongside those words. On the Facebook event for the protest, the group wrote, ‘Women do not exist to be the mere tools to build the reputation of male artists. We demand changes in the art industry’s structure, which only wants to limit women to be the “Muse” to inspire male artists. We demand changes in the organizations and institutions which agree to strengthen the structures’
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In a statement sent to ARTnews, C/O Berlin, 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.”
Nobuyoshi Araki is one of Japans most famous – and most controversial photographers and has long invited criticism towards his works of extreme sexual stereotypes and objectification of women. Despite Japans heavy censorship laws, Araki’s work thrived with a career spanning 50 years. The 78-year-old has over 400 books with his photographs and his work is as conspicuous in the west as it is in Japan. In an interview with Huffington Post in 2014, he stated ‘I tie women’s bodies up because I know their souls can’t be tied. Only the physical self can be tied,’ when discussing His depictions of Japanese rope bondage – Kinbaku-bi. Some of those images too extreme for the average onlooker. It remains unclear in a post Harvey Weinstein and in the wake of the #MeToo movement if the photographers attitude to the depiction of women will change or stop, but against his wishes, the world’s view on the objectification of women and what is deemed art will most certainly be brought into question whatever he does next.