“Galleria stalkers” is aimed at university art students in graduation exhibitions

The campus of Hiroshima City University, where “gallery stalkers” were reported at graduation exhibitions, is seen on February 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Noburu Ujo)

TOKYO — Every spring, on graduation or program end day, fourth-year students at art universities and institutions in Japan host exhibitions that offer visitors the chance to see works up close at the school or in museums. However, some see it as an opportunity to approach students, follow the young artists around them or make sexual comments towards them. The problem has become a problem where the culprits are known as “gallery stalkers”.

In mid-February, at Hiroshima City University’s Faculty of Arts, more than 190 works were displayed in classrooms and art studios. The students went to the exhibitions to see their work and chat with the visitors. Unfortunately, many had terrifying encounters with gallery stalkers.

One female student was told, “I’ve been watching you (for four years) because you’re cute,” and someone who lingered there for a long time gave her a gift. One person commented on the nude-like work: “Is this what you want?” Someone else talked to the male student about male genitalia. Another tried repeatedly to offer gifts of food and flowers to certain students. Someone even brought shoes out of a bag, trying to get a male student to put them on, saying, “About three other students have already tried these on.”

Most of the bullying is done by middle-aged men, but there are also apparently elderly women among the gallery followers. One of them has been seen at exhibitions about eight years ago. This year, that person came to campus and spoke with one or more female students before the opening of the exhibition.

According to the university’s current students, the targets are usually female fine arts students wearing beautiful outfits and short, gentle men. They also pointed out that incidents usually happen in remote locations when students are alone.

Since the situation arises every time exhibitions are held, the students have passed on descriptions of gallery stalkers and other information between them. Many have raised their voices this time and repeatedly asked the staff to deal with the matter. One student said: “I brought it up to staff but was told, ‘It’s because the visitors are fans of your work’ and, ‘Tame with it’.” The student added: “I feel scared and anxious when I realize there is no one to trust.”

A graduate student at the university, 25-year-old Shiori Yamashita, also participated in her graduation exhibition. “Professors at the Faculty of Arts are mostly men. Men usually don’t experience much fear in their daily lives, which is why they don’t understand when we ask them for help.” She hopes that the university will increase the safety of exhibitions and increase the number of female professors who influence the issue in the long term.

Sculptor and critic Nodoka Odawara tries to improve the situation of artists in terms of harassment and working conditions. “Myself included, quite a lot of Female Artists seem to have experienced this. However, the gender balance of the teaching staff in art universities in particular is missing, so it’s hard to get proper recognition for the problem,” she noted. own experience. “The authors may think, ‘I support you,’ but they are, so to speak, suspicious people. As is clear at Hiroshima City University, victimized students are not limited by gender. The management of universities and galleries should set guidelines for dealing with harassing behavior, not ask students and artists to deal with it “, he emphasized.

The teacher in charge of the graduation exhibition told the Mainichi Shimbun that they make the rounds, not just to deal with suspicious people, but to look for problems with the displays and deal with other issues. – Students are also reminded in advance, and we strive to maintain safety, the employee said. In addition, the university’s Office of Academic Affairs and Research Support said: “We have heard from students about disruptive behavior and have tried to fully understand the situation. We would like to think about measures to resolve it.”

(Originally written in Japanese by Sakiko Takahashi, Cultural News Department)

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