Many issues need to be resolved if a canceled art exhibition in Nagoya featuring a statue symbolizing the "comfort women" forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels is to be reopened, the event's artistic director said Monday.

"It is very difficult in my own position to make a clear statement to the future of the exhibition," Daisuke Tsuda, a journalist who has taken the director's role at the Aichi Triennale 2019, said at a press conference in Tokyo.

The exhibition, "After 'Freedom of Expression?'", was pulled on Aug. 3, three days into the 75-day festival, at a time of escalating tension between Japan and South Korea over wartime and trade issues.

The shutdown of the exhibition, showcasing works previously not shown due to censorship, has also sparked controversy over freedom of expression.

"I believe that it could create an opportunity for discussion, and that there's significant meaning in holding this in the public sector," Tsuda said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

(Daisuke Tsuda)

The issue of comfort women has been a major sticking point in Japan-South Korea relations, which have recently deteriorated further due to disputes over wartime compensation and tighter export controls.

When the presence of the statue symbolizing the women, alongside other controversial works, became known, festival organizers received a barrage of phone calls and protest messages, some threatening harm.

Staff who handled threats made by phone, and in person, soon reached the point where the countermeasures which had been laid out prior to the exhibition were not functioning, according to Tsuda.

One of the faxes read, "I will bring a gasoline container to the museum," drawing parallels with a deadly arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio in mid-July.

Further controversy ensued when Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura demanded the exhibition be shut, arguing the statue should not be displayed at a publicly funded event as its presence could give the wrong impression that Japan accepted South Korea's claim the women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military.

Various political remarks about the exhibition were seen by some as a violation of the Japanese Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech.

But Tsuda stressed "the pressure from politicians was not the reason for cancellation."

"Rather, it was based on how the organization's functions had frozen as a result of the situation," he said, noting the issues are being investigated by an Aichi Prefecture panel, with an interim report to be issued in mid-September.

(Members of the organizing committee of the exhibition "After 'Freedom of Expression?'")

The organizing committee of the exhibition has criticized the move as an act of censorship, rather than one of safety as claimed by Tsuda.

Members of the committee wrote a letter in Japanese and English to oppose the Aug. 3 decision, claiming it was made without their consent and that the cancellation is "the most significant censorship case in the post-war Japan era."

"We definitely hope the exhibition to continue to its full term, to the end of the festival (on Oct. 14)," they wrote.

The decision to call off the exhibition has also been met with resistance from international artists, some of whom have boycotted the festival in a show of solidarity, according to the committee.

"We do not believe that we have fully given in or lost in this situation," Toshimaru Ogura, a member of the committee, said.

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