Believe it or not, the following are actual photos from the Asian Art Museum’s own Spot the Samurai promotional campaign.
And then there are the video spots:
This is the kind of promotion that has been described by a major museum’s distinguished curator as “fairly insulting to the whole idea of the samurai.”
Apparently the Hosokawa family, owner of the art objects on display, has gone along with it, but we can’t imagine they’re too proud or thrilled to have their exquisite collection associated with such a cheapening of culture. (In fact, we were told by one museum official that they have no intention of the Hosokawas finding out about this protest).
Some of our own principal staff are documented descendants of samurai ourselves, and we have to say we find this gross mishandling of our ancestral culture horribly offensive.
Museum staff have told us they’re just “having fun.”
We say: GO HAVE FUN WITH SOMETHING ELSE.
Now, lest you believe that this is solely the work of the museum’s PR/Marketing department, think again.
Here are photos of the museum’s director donning the costume:
This is the highly esteemed head of the museum, a man with his own sense of agency and personal politics, wearing the cheap samurai costume in front of an audience.
This is the reality of the culture inside the museum, a place where staff actually believe that a footnote on a wall didactic somehow makes up for an insulting ad campaign plastered all over the city.
The question of “gate,” or the need to draw people into the museum, as justification for this kind of promotional practice has been raised repeatedly, but nowhere have we seen any serious consideration or voice given to those who are misrepresented by and have to live with the consequences of such deliberately base distortions of our cultures.
And who gets to decide: those who benefit at the box office, or those who have to deal on a daily basis with such dehumanizing stereotypes projected upon their racialized bodies?
The very “logic” of such a question is founded upon a deeply ingrained tradition of Orientalist, white supremacist entitlement: the presumption that you could somehow put a box office price on the racial stereotyping of Others is itself a repugnant proposition.
It profoundly shapes how people look at us, and how we see ourselves.
Through this art action we are telling the museum, and the rest of the world that is watching, that it’s no longer solely the museum’s place to decide.