‘Gallery stalkers’ targeting university art students at graduation exhibitions

The Hiroshima City University campus, where ‘gallery stalkers’ have been reported at graduation exhibitions, is seen on February 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Noburu Ujo)

TOKYO – At universities and art departments across Japan, fourth-year students hold exhibitions each spring for their graduation or program completion, offering visitors the chance to see the works up close at school or in museums. However, some take advantage of this to approach students, follow young artists or target them with sexual remarks. The issue has become a problem, with the culprits known as “gallery stalkers”.

In mid-February, at the Faculty of Arts of Hiroshima City University, more than 190 works were on display in classrooms and art studios. The students attended the exhibitions to monitor their works and interact with visitors. Unfortunately, many have had scary encounters with gallery stalkers.

A student was told, “I’ve been watching you (for four years), because you’re cute”, and received a gift from someone who lingered there for a long time. One person commented on a piece that looked like a naked woman, “Is this what you desire?” Someone else told a male student about the male reproductive organs. Another tried several times to give gifts in the form of food and flowers to some students. Someone even took shoes out of a bag, trying to get a male student to put them on, saying, “About three other students have already tried them on.

Most of the harmful behavior is done by middle-aged men, but there are also seemingly older women among the stalkers in the gallery. One of them was spotted in exhibits about eight years ago. This year, this person entered the campus and spoke with one or more students before the opening of the exhibition.

According to current students at the university, those targeted are usually fine arts students who wear cute outfits, as well as short and mild-mannered men. They also pointed out that the incidents tend to happen in isolated places, when the students are alone.

Because the situation arises whenever the exhibitions take place, the students exchanged descriptions of gallery stalkers and other information. Many raised their voices this time, repeatedly asking the staff to fix the problem. One student said, “I brought the matter to the attention of the staff, but was told, ‘It’s because the visitors are fans of your work’ and ‘Hold it. The student added, “I feel scared and anxious when I realize there is no one to rely on.”

A university graduate student, Shiori Yamashita, 25, also participated in an exhibition for her graduation. “The professors at the Faculty of Arts are mostly men. Men don’t usually experience much fear in their daily lives, which I wonder is why they don’t understand when we ask them to ugly.” She hopes the university will strengthen exhibition security and, in the long term, increase the number of female professors who have a say in the matter.

Sculptor and critic Nodoka Odawara tries to improve the situation of artists in terms of harassment and working conditions. “Including myself, many, many female artists seem to have experienced this. However, the gender balance of the teaching staff at fine arts universities in particular is shifted, so it is difficult for the issue to be given due recognition,” said she underlined, relying on her personal experience. “Perpetrators may think, ‘I support you,’ but they are, so to speak, suspicious people. As is clear at Hiroshima City University, victimized students are not restricted by gender. University and gallery management should set guidelines for dealing with harmful behavior, not ask students and artists to deal with it,” she stressed.

A member of the teaching staff responsible for the graduation exhibition told the Mainichi Shimbun that they were going around, not only to deal with suspicious people, but to look for problems with displays and handle other issues. . “Students also receive an advance reminder and we will work to maintain security,” the staff member said. Additionally, the university’s Office of Academic Affairs and Research Support said, “We have heard from students about the harmful behavior and we have been trying to fully understand the situation. We would like to consider ways to measures to deal with it.”

(Japanese original by Sakiko Takahashi, Cultural Information Department)

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