An interesting case of art censorship has just hit the news headlines from the shire of Broome, Australia. A “controversial” landscape painting depicting bloody coastal waters of Taiji, Japan has been rejected by the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards contest on the grounds that, “it was violent, it was inflammatory, it was antagonistic”. The painting was meant to raise awareness of the annual dolphin hunts in the coastal town of Taiji, Japan, which is also the topic of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. This documentary has brought international attention to the hunts and has placed tremendous international pressure on the “fishermen” of Taiji to stop what many perceive as a cruel and unnecessary practice.
“If it hadn’t been something I felt extremely strongly about because I felt it was so unattractive, then it would not have been pulled.” – Jillian Phlip
The art contest is held annually as part of the multicultural Shinju Matsuri Festival held in the shire of Broome, which is Taiji’s sister city. Continued dolphin hunts in Taiji despite international protest recently caused the two sister cities to suspend ties. Festival director Jillian Phlip said that displaying the painting by local artist Adrian Dwyer would have jeopardized recent efforts at reconciliation between the two towns.
Interestingly, nothing in the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards conditions of entry restrict content or subject matter in any way. In fact the “Criteria for Art Entries” states that, “there is no set theme for the Shinju Matsuri Art Awards. Artists may find some inspiration through reflecting on the past and the harmonious celebration of multiculturalism and diversity of Shinju Matsuri.” While Dwyer’s painting may not promote harmonious celebration, it certainly speaks to the past (and future) of Broome’s relationship with Taiji. Festival director Phlip certainly isn’t obscuring her objections to the piece, which seem to be largely political, stating that the painting might have offended the Japanese consul-general who was visiting Broome for the festival. Dwyer’s painting was the only entry rejected from the festival’s art show.
Dwyer is certainly not the first to use artistic expression to bring attention to activities in Taiji. Back in 2009, London Art News shared Fizza Abdulrasul’s painting Dolphins: From Sheer Joy to Utter Devastation (below).
Schoolchildren from the island of St. Helena created artistic representations of how they felt after watching the documentary The Cove as part of a class project, and shared their work with the Save Japan Dolphins blog.
During a protest against Taiji dolphin hunts in Madrid, Spain an artistic team created this striking representation of a Japanese flag. A YouTube video shows the process behind this shot.
As reported last year by Environment Philippines, The Cove documentary inspired Filipino mural artist AG Sano to paint 23,000 dolphins. You can see Sano’s interview on CCTV news here.
Despite his disappointment at having his painting withdrawn by the Shinju Matsuri Festival, Dwyer’s art is now reaching an international audience. Media coverage in The West Australian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), among others, continues to raise the profile of his painting well beyond what it may have been had the piece been included in the show. As writer Kathy Acker once said, “I think the best thing in cases of censorship or things like this is to get as much media as possible.”