LGBT Censorship in Art Institutions: Interview with Ryudai Takano

QA Blog Series: QA18 Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition: Artist Interviews

Posted on 12/07/2018
Ryudai Takano participated in the ‘Queer’ Asia 2018 Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition, 26-28 June 2018, at SOAS, University of London. See more here


From Ryudai’s Takano photographic series with me, 2014


Could you describe your work for the Bodies x Borders exhibition? How do you think your work relates to the theme of Bodies x Borders?

The photographs I will present at the exhibition are from my series titled with me. This series was about taking a commemorative nude photograph of a model and myself together at the end of photo shoots.

The reason why I started this series was because I thought that I could reproduce skin tones of people that I photographed correctly if I used my own skin tone as a kind of a colour chart. I only intended to use these photos as records, but as they accumulated, I found these images so interesting because they revealed the differences among the models, and I finally started presenting the series publicly.

Article 175 folded into a paper airplane by the artist

I sensed that the Japanese government was trying to regulate our sexual consciousness by taking a control over the bodies of the people


Could you elaborate on your process for creating the specific work in the exhibition? Have you shown this work before? How has this work been received in previous exhibitions?

Four years ago, when I showed the series at a Japanese museum, the police asked the museum to remove it from their exhibition, accusing its presentation as a ‘Distribution of Obscene Objects’ defined in the criminal law. In Japan, there is no clear legal definition as to what constitutes ‘obscene objects.’ But there is a vague consensus in society that sexual organs such as penises fit under this definition. However, because I had no intention of sending out a sexual message through this body of work, and since it was being shown at a public museum that restricted the entrance of children without a prior consent of their parents, I was completely assured that it was not going to cause any issues. However, it did.

Laws are something that defines a boundary between the good and the bad within a country. My works, which were originally meant to serve as simple records, have suddenly become erotic objects that went beyond the limit of allowance designated by the nation. Thus, they were sentenced to a deportation from my country.

The police pointed out that the problem with my photographs was that they showed male genitalia. However, the police have not regulated all photographs with visible penises that had been exhibited in Japanese art museums. Judging from this fact, I came to believe that the reason the police came to exercise control over my works was not because of the visible penis but rather because the photos showed two males joining shoulders amicably without clothes on.

There were three measures that I could take against the police interference. One was to remove the work to replace it with another work exactly as directed by the police. Another was to file a lawsuit against the police. The last one, which I actually implemented, was to cover the work with a cloth, modifying it as if the two males were wrapped in a bed sheet. This modification covered the penises that the police problematized, while also explicitly communicating to audience that the police interfered with this work.

Through this experience, I sensed that the Japanese government was trying to regulate our sexual consciousness by taking a control over the bodies of the people. They told me that the police who came to regulate the work kept repeating “I cannot let my daughter who is in Year 6 see such work.“ (The Year 6 children in Japan are aged between eleven and twelve.) And so it was at least certain that the image was beyond his personal ethical standard, although the museum restricted children of that age to enter the gallery without parental permission.

Article 175: Distribution of Obscene Objects (English Translation)


I think our sense of sex should be something freer, more relaxed and diversified


Do you have any expectations for how audiences in London will respond to your work? Are there any messages you wish visitors would take away after seeing your work?

I certainly don’t believe that the work could be censored again in London. However, it is a fact that historically, in Europe and in the United States, homosexual love was deemed illegal until recently.

On the other hand, although it is a not well-known fact, in pre-modern Japanese society, sexual relationships between males were never considered taboo and they existed as something common. We may say that it was almost to an extent that for males, whether to choose a man or a woman for their sexual partner was only a matter of taste. However, in the process of modernisation in which Japan tried to introduce the values of the western world, a sense of discrimination towards homosexuality was also imported.

With such past history in mind, I hope that the exhibition of my work will provide a chance for viewers to reflect on the fact that there are countries that have openly faced its history to overcome the discrimination and that there are others that try to let things pass into ambiguity, as in the case of Japan.   

Finally, I have one more thing to add.

There exists a term ‘sexual minority.’ This implies that there also exists ‘sexual majority.’ However, I doubt if there really are such things. Currently, it is ‘heterosexual love’ that’s considered as on the side of majority. But couldn’t it be that there exist multiple different sexual orientations within individuals? Should the boundary between the heterosexual and the homosexual something absolute when we fall in love with someone? Isn’t it just our self-consciousness that is not capable of maintaining our selfhood once we nullify that boundary, which is making that boundary something absolute? I think our sense of sex should be something freer, more relaxed and diversified. And I wish that my work could assist in opening up the door to such liberation.

Ryudai Takano, installation view I
Ryudai Takano, installation view II

Artist biography
: Ryudai Takano is an artist and photographer from Fukui, Japan. A graduate of Waseda University’s Politics and Economics Department, Takano began his photography career after a classmate asked his help in stage photography at the university. He began working on his major collection,, in 1993, and obtained the 31st Kimura Ihei Commemorative Photography Award for new photographs in 2006 for his work, In My Room. He has exhibited his work as part of group exhibitions such as ‘Photography Will Be’ (Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya, 2014) and Japan Foundation’s touring exhibition ‘out of ordinary/extraordinary: Japanese Contemporary Photography’ which toured extensively in the UK, as well as other countries including Germany, Spain, and the USA. His work can be seen in public collections at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Kawasaki City Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, and Dazaifu Tenmangu Collection and more.