First, here’s the backdrop as quoted from the Boston Globe’s July 7, 2015 article (link goes to: https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2015/07/07/mfa-backs-down-over-kimono-event-response-protests/lv9NHcnpW0lsRE77d9hvkI/story.html). author: John Blanding/Globe Staff.
In an episode that speaks volumes about cultural institutions, ethnic sensitivity, and the power of protest in the digital age, the Museum of Fine Arts is hastily pulling back on an event that protesters labeled a latter-day form of racist minstrelsy.
MFA officials announced Tuesday they would recast “Kimono Wednesdays,” an attraction scheduled to run throughout July. It is extremely rare for the MFA to change exhibition plans in the wake of protests; it appears such action had not been taken for decades.
Created as a light summer distraction, “Kimono Wednesdays” invited visitors to “channel your inner Camille Monet” by donning museum-provided kimonos and posing for photos in front of Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise,” a painting of the artist’s wife wearing a kimono.
But the event quickly raised the hackles of protesters, who charged that the museum was perpetuating racist stereotypes by presenting Asian culture as quintessentially exotic.
At a celebration for departing MFA director Malcolm Rogers on June 24, a small group of protesters stood vigil. “This is appropriation, this is Orientalism,” read one sign. Rogers himself didn’t seem fazed, telling the Globe, “A little controversy never did any harm.”
But the protesters were back on July 1.
On Tuesday afternoon, the MFA issued a statement that read in part, “We apologize for offending any visitors.” Starting Wednesday, visitors will be able to touch, but not to wear, the kimonos, which will be presented with an educational talk until the event ends on July 29.
“It’s fair to say we were all quite surprised by the response,” said MFA deputy director Katie Getchell. “We thought it would be an educational opportunity for people to have direct encounters with works of art and understand different cultures and times better.”
You may not agree on each point, but any one alone is cause for conversation.
- “We apologize for offending any visitors,” implies that those who felt the sting of their race being used to promote an exhibit could have felt otherwise. People don’t protest like that whimsically – they have been hurt. Please acknowledge that, MFA, and say, “We apologize for offending visitors.”
- MFA director Malcolm Rogers, “himself didn’t seem fazed, telling the Globe, ‘a little controversy never did any harm,'” which implies a comfort in using race baiting to promote his organization. Race baiting is not harmless, it is racial bullying for your enjoyment or exploitation.
- You can stop looking foreign when you take off the kimono on Thursday, but the Asian woman keeps looking foreign as a result of another stereotype reinforcing visual.
- Katie Getchell’s response does say she had no offending intention. It also shows a simplistic construct of race (I’m guessing she is white) that she believes her Kimono Wednesdays would be educational and that it would help people “understand different cultures and times better.”