Social Justice Warriors Protest Kimono Exhibition


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Last summer,  the Boston Museum of Fine Arts had a special art presentation called Kimono Wednesday, where they let people try on Japanese kimonos.  The presentation was part of an exhibition celebrating Claude Monet’s famous painting “La Japonaise.” People could wear a kimono that looks similar to the kimono painted in Monet’s painting.  It was a way Americans and tourists could experience the painting firsthand, and learn a little bit about Japanese historical culture.

However, some people felt this art exhibition was racist by “exoticizing” Asian Americans.  Protesters showed signs saying “try on a kimono and see what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!”  They even created a Facebook page called Stand Against Yellow Face (Now changed to Decolonize Our Museums).

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The museum tried to defend their exhibition, but unfortunately gave in to the protesters, and canceled it.  The museum even offered an apology to anyone offended by their exhibition.

This is a perfect example of Social Justice Warriors at work.  These protesters missed the point that this was a celebration of Monet’s art, and a way of learning about Japanese history by having a chance to wear a kimono.  They thought of the exhibition as a way of looking at Asian culture like you look at a monkey in a zoo.

Claude Monet’s painting “La Japonaise” portrays a European woman wearing a kimono. The woman happened to be Monet’s wife. When Monet painted this in the late 1800s, Japan had opened itself to the rest of the world after around 200 years of being isolated.  So there was a great fascination of Japanese culture, and wearing kimonos became all the rage for wealthy Europeans.

One cool thing to see was counter-protesters who tried to express that there was nothing wrong with the presentation by wearing  their own kimonos and yukata.

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We live in a crazy world when an art show that helps people learn about another culture becomes a protest about racism.  Culture is a beautiful thing.  We all should learn about each other.  I think the original protesters saw an opportunity to be heroes of social justice, but this definitely was not the place they were needed.

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