Controversial Japanese artist defiant over calls to take down artwork mocking Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Makoto Aida claims works are "humorous" and "not political"

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The Independent Culture

A famous Japanese contemporary artist is embroiled in an angry fight with a major museum after it allegedly asked him to take down works critical of the conservative government.

Makoto Aida claims the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo asked him to pull an installation in which he apparently mocks the Japanese prime minister, and that they called it “unsuitable” for children.

"I was told that the works were not appropriate and that they wanted me to remove them," the artist told AFP. He reportedly revealed that the request to take down the installation came from the Tokyo city government and followed a complaint from a visitor to the gallery.

But the Tokyo gallery denies the claims, saying it only asked Aida to “modify” the work to make them more suitable for children, not remove them entirely from the exhibition.

The piece behind the controversy is a video installation in which Aida appears as “a man calling himself Japan’s prime minister”.

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Makoto Aida plays the part of a Japanese prime minister making a speech in poor English

Although no direct mention is made of Japanese premier Shinzo Abe it is clear that he is the target of Aida’s piece as the artwork discusses controversial legislation championed by Minister Abe aimed at expanding Japan’s military reach beyond the purely defensive.

The legislation in pacifist Japan has divided parliament and the country even leading to protests among the population.

The video depicts Aida making a speech in broken English apologising to the people of China, Korea and other countries in Asia for Japan’s imperial expansion in the 20th century.

"We began imitating other powerful countries, we colonised those weaker nations surrounding us, and we began wars of aggression," the artist says in the video.

"There were a great many people whom we insulted, and we wounded…and we killed... I am sorry!”

Aida has also come under fire for a large work of calligraphy which apparently criticises the ministry of education.

The artist has said the work was intended to be “funny” and was “not political”. Aida, whose profile is lesser known internationally than Takashi Murakami or Yoshitomo Nara, is recognised as one of the pre-eminent figures of Japanese contemporary art.

A spokeswoman for the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo said it had asked the artist to “modify” his works. “We asked him if he could make them more approachable to children,” she said.