The #MeToo movement, first ignited in the United States in 2017, has since spread across Asia. Illustration by Yip Pak To for ArtAsiaPacific.

#MeToo, Part Two

Also available in:  Chinese

The #MeToo movement, ignited in the United States in late 2017, has blazed across art scenes in Asia, where, in many places, conservative, patriarchal, social and legal infrastructures
have stymied the fight for protections against sexual misconduct.  

In India’s art community, the #MeToo movement exploded after an anonymously managed Instagram account, Scene and Herd
(@herdsceneand), began posting allegations of sexual misconduct in October. The stories, sent anonymously to Scene and Herd, have accused Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) co-founder Riyas Komu; artist Jatin Das; Gaurav Bhatia, managing director of Sotheby’s India; artist Subodh Gupta; and many others of sexual harassment of multiple women and men. On October 19, the Kochi Biennale Foundation issued a statement declaring Komu was stepping down from his managerial position at KMB; later, an Indian newspaper reported that the Foundation was in consultation with cyber-forensic experts to investigate Scene and Herd. In November, Sotheby’s India stated that Bhatia has taken a leave of absence pending an official investigation. A month later, Gupta stepped down from his guest curator position at Serendipity Arts Festival and denied all allegations against him. 

In China, Gary Xu was removed from his role as curator of the Shenzhen Biennale on March 15 after his former colleague wrote on social media of his two-decade-long history of harassing female students while he was working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

A statement published by anonymous WeChat user qiaoqiao, posted and circulated on September 24, detailed Ocula.com associate editor and Wyoming Project co-founder Li Bowen’s emotionally abusive and sexually coercive behavior with numerous women. Li resigned from his post at Ocula on September 26, the same day a follow-up post was published by qiaoqiao, which describes these incidents as falling “into the gray area between the jurisdictions of law and ethics.” The post stressed the intent “not to judge Li Bowen in the court of public opinion.”

In South Korea, the director of the Seoul Museum of Art, Choi Hyo-jun, was suspended from his position on July 19, following a sexual harassment complaint filed by a female museum employee. He also stepped down from his post as co-curator of the Seoul Mediacity Biennale, which opened on September 6.  

On December 7, the activist group Angry Asian Girls Association organized a protest outside C/O Berlin gallery, which at the time was hosting an exhibition for photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. The move was in solidarity with former model Kaori, who had published a blog post in early April about her complicated 15-year working relationship with Araki. “He treated me like an object,” she wrote, disclosing that Araki disseminated and sold nude images of her without her consent or remuneration, and pressured her into posing naked in front of strangers. Earlier in the year on August 2, the Polish feminist group Żubrzyce Mówimy Nie (“Bison Ladies, We Say No”) protested another Araki exhibition at Warsaw’s Raster Gallery. 

Israel’s Education Ministry revealed disturbing reports of inappropriate conduct by faculty members at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim. The controversy arose after a former art teacher, the 62-year-old Boaz Arad, committed suicide on February 2 following local press reports that he was being questioned over his alleged sexual relations with female students.  

Across Asia, anonymous complaints on social media far outnumber legal cases brought against alleged perpetrators, possibly due to fear of backlash and silencing. An anonymous poster wrote on Scene and Herd, “I don’t have the courage to go to the police, but at least I can make the art world aware of my abuser.” 

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David Zwirner 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Silverlens