Bioethics Blogs

Stop Orientalism?: On Boston MFA’s ‘Kimono Wednesdays’

By Kei Hiruta

‘STOP ORIENTALISM’. So says the banner of the protest group, ‘Stand Against Yellow Face’ (SAYF), campaigning against a weekly event at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. The event, called ‘Kimono Wednesdays’, originally encouraged museum visitors to ‘interact’ with Claude Monet’s ‘La Japonaise’ by trying on a replica of the kimono that the artist’s French wife wears in the painting. Immediately after the opening on 24 June, however, the event attracted the charges of Orientalism, racism, cultural appropriation and so on, resulting in MFA’s announcement that visitors would no longer be able to put on the replicated kimono, though the display would continue until the end of July (See, e.g. here, here and here). Unsatisfied, SAYF demands a formal apology and the complete closure of the event itself. The group has also been channelling the protest into a larger advocacy, mobilising familiar online tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

The outcry provoked a considerable backlash, yielding impassioned mutual accusations between protestors and counter-protestors. To break the stalemate, this post aims to challenge the presumption that both sides – those asserting ‘This is Orientalist!’, and those insisting ‘This is NOT Orientalist!’ – appear to share. I would like to show that the fact that ‘Kimono Wednesdays’ may reasonably be considered Orientalist is not by itself sufficient to establish the wrongness of the event.

Let me begin with an uncontroversial observation. In Japan today, we wear kimono only on special occasions such as weddings and seijin-shiki (celebrating the 20th year of birth).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.