Is it a culturally sensitive response to a delicate situation, or another instance of political correctness and outrage culture run amok?
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston announced this week that it has canceled its “Kimono Wednesday” event in which visitors were invited to don replicas of traditional Japanese kimonos and be photographed in front of Monet’s painting “La Japonaise,” the French Impressionist’s 1876 portrait of his wife, Camille, posing in an elaborate red kimono and holding a fan.
The cancellation comes after negative feedback on social media and reports of protests at the museum by people who said the event was racist toward Asian people. “We apologize for offending any visitors,” the museum said in a statement published on its website.
The museum said that the kimonos will now be on display in its Impressionist gallery every Wednesday evening in July “for visitors to touch and engage with, but not to try on.”
Monet’s “La Japonaise,” which is part of the museum’s permanent collection, was created at a time when Parisian society was abuzz about Japanese culture. The painting shows Camille Monet striking a playful pose and wearing a blond wig to emphasize her Western identity, according the the museum.
In recent days, art news sites and blogs have reported on protests and other forms of negative feedback surrounding the MFA Boston’s kimono event. Artnet has posted photos online showing demonstrators inside the museum holding signs
Artnet also published a photograph of an internal museum document that it said was leaked to protesters. The document states at one point: “We don’t think this is racist. We hope visitors come away with a better understanding of how Japanese art influenced the Impressionists like Monet."
A Facebook page titled “Stand Against Yellow-Face @ the MFA” described the Kimono Wednesday event as an “insult not only to our identities, experiences, and histories as Asian-Americans in America, but affects how society as a whole continues to typecast and deny our voices today.”
But not everyone has been in agreement with that assessment. One Facebook commenter on the page, who identified herself as Japanese American, wrote that “I am ashamed and disappointed that there is a protest on this exhibit, as I find nothing wrong with it."
MFA Boston said in its statement that “we heard concerns from some members of our community, and as a result, we’ve decided to change our programming."