“Gallery stalkers” target university art students at graduation exhibitions

The campus of Hiroshima City University, where “exhibit stalkers” have been reported at graduation fairs, is seen on February 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Noburu Ujo)

TOKYO – At universities and art departments across Japan, fourth-year students host exhibitions of their graduation or completion of the program each spring, giving visitors the opportunity to view works up close at school or museums. However, some use it as an opportunity to approach students, follow young artists around them or target them with sexual remarks. The case became problematic, with the perpetrators known as “exhibition stalkers”.

In mid-February at Hiroshima City University’s Faculty of Arts, more than 190 works are on display in classrooms and art studios. Students attended the exhibits to see their work and talk to visitors. Unfortunately, many have had frightening encounters with the show’s stalkers.

One female student was told, “I’ve been watching you (for four years), because you’re cute,” and someone who had been there for a long time gave her a gift. A person commented on a piece that resembled a naked female: Is this what you want? Another person talked to a male student about male genitalia. Another tried again and again to give gifts of food and flowers to certain students. One of them even took a shoe out of the bag, trying to get a student to wear it while saying, “About three other students have already tried these shoes on.”

Most of the disturbing behavior is done by middle-aged men, but there also seem to be elderly women among the gallery’s stalkers. One of them was spotted at fairs about eight years ago. This year, this person entered the campus and chatted with one or more female students before opening the exhibition.

According to current students at the university, those targeted tend to be beautifully dressed female fine arts students, along with short-tempered males. They also noted that accidents tended to happen in isolated places, when students were alone.

As the situation arises whenever exhibits are held, students have been passing descriptions of exhibit chasers and other information between each other. Many have raised their voices this time, and have repeatedly asked the staff to deal with this problem. One student said, “I caught the eye of the staff, but was told, ‘Because visitors like your work,'” and, “Put up with it.” The student added, “I feel fear and anxiety when I realize that there is no one to rely on.”

Shiori Yamashita, a 25-year-old university graduate student, participated in an exhibition for her graduation. “Most of the professors in the Faculty of Arts are men. And men in general don’t feel so intimidated in their daily lives, which I wonder is why they don’t understand when we go to them for help.” She hopes that the university will intensify security measures in the exhibitions, and that in the long term it will increase the number of female professors who have an opinion in this matter.

Sculptor and critic Nodoka Odawara is trying to improve the situation artists face in terms of harassment and working conditions. “I myself, many female artists seem to have experienced this. However, the gender balance in the faculty of fine arts universities in particular is off, so it is difficult for this issue to get due recognition,” she points out, drawing on My own experience. “The perpetrators may think, ‘I support you,’ but they are, so to speak, shady people. As demonstrated at Hiroshima City University, students who are victimized are not restricted by gender. The administration of universities and galleries should put in place guidelines for dealing with disturbing behaviour, Not asking students and artists to deal with it.”

One of the faculty members in charge of the graduation exhibition told the Mainichi Shimbun that they make the rounds, not just to deal with shady people, but to research problems with performances and deal with other issues. “Students are also being reminded in advance, and we will work to keep them safe,” said the employee. In addition, the university’s Office of Academic Affairs and Research Support said, “We have been hearing from students about disturbing behavior, and have been in the process of trying to fully understand the situation. We would like to think of measures to deal with it.”

(Japanese original by Sakiko Takahashi, Culture News Division)


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