Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s “Dress Up in a Kimono” Event Considered Racist

kimono at mfa

ArtNet News writes that “protesters are up in arms” over a controversial public program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The museum had invited visitors to dress up in a kimono in front of Claude Monet’s 1876 painting La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume). According to a June 19 Facebook post, people could don a replica of the robe to “channel your inner Camille Monet,” getting assistance from museum “ambassadors” to play dress up.

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has now apologized and discontinued the program that gave rise to a number of demonstrations in the museum. One of the groups called Stand Against Yellow-Face @ the MFA was one of the organizing protesters against what it calls “cultural appropriation and orientalism.”

Artnet reports that the demonstrators took to the galleries with signs brandishing messages like “Try on the kimono [and] learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!”

The museum released this statement the other day:

Following is the museum’s statement:
“The MFA’s mission is to engage people with direct encounters with works of art, and to be an inclusive and welcoming place for all. When the MFA’s painting, La Japonaise by Claude Monet, traveled throughout Japan for an exhibition, historically accurate reproduction kimonos were made for visitors to try on. When the painting returned to Boston and a similar program was introduced at the MFA, we heard concerns from some members of our community, and as a result, we’ve decided to change our programming. The kimonos will now be on display in the Impressionist gallery every Wednesday evening in July for visitors to touch and engage with, but not to try on. This allows the MFA to continue to achieve the program’s goal of offering an interactive experience with the kimonos—understanding their weight and size, and appreciating the embroidery, material, and narrative composition. We will also increase the number of Spotlight Talks presented by MFA educators, to take place every Wednesday evening in July in conjunction with the display of the kimonos. The talks provide context on French Impressionism, “japonisme,” and the historical background of the painting, as well as an opportunity to engage in culturally sensitive discourse. We apologize for offending any visitors, and welcome everyone to participate in these programs on Wednesday evenings, when Museum admission is free. We look forward to continuing the Museum’s long-standing dialogue about the art, culture and influence of Japan.”

How do you feel about the Museum’s interactive exhibit? Was it offensive to you and why? We’d love to hear from you on our Facebook or Instagram page!

Image: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, via Facebook