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French artist’s Osaka, Kyoto ‘residency’ raises eyebrows

Samples of Clet Abraham's work in Osaka
Samples of Clet Abraham’s work in Osaka

KYOTO (TR) – Clet Abraham, a French street artist, recently modified a number of street signs in the Kansai area. From December 30, at least 90 places in Kyoto and Osaka were given artistic makeovers with tape and stickers, the artist told the Sankei Shimbun (Jan. 13).

A directional arrow was blunted, images of people were seen climbing from inside instructions and Pac-Man munched away at a one-way street sign. It might not be Banksy, but over the festive New Year’s holidays West Japan was provided with its own artist in residence.

Police are unimpressed. In both cities, authorities are planning to peel off Abraham’s creations and get the streets back to their normal, less-fun states. As the artist has departed Japan, he appears comfortable admitting he was responsible for brightening up the nation’s streets: “If [the police] ask me if I did it, I would say yes.”

On Fuji TV’s morning “Tokudane” news show, one woman interviewed said she thought the signs were great. Another couple, however, were not so sure, pointing out that the converted signs could distract drivers and prove to be dangerous.

A report by another Fuji program, which labeled the works as “mischievous,” found that Abraham was helped by a Japanese woman. “Art is not just for galleries,” she said in the report, with her face blurred out.

It is not the first time for Abraham to appear in the media. The Daily Mail last year dubbed him “every council’s worst nightmare.” It reported he had been fined 400 euros (about 55,000 yen) for vandalism.

For his part, the artist is defensive of his work. “Street signs convey authority, even touching them is taboo,” Abraham told the Sankei. “My art is a form of free speech.”

Update: On January 14, Osaka Prefectural Police arrested Mami Uragawa, a 43-year-old resident of Florence, Italy, for violating the Road Traffic Act, reports Sports Hochi (Jan. 15). The suspect is alleged to have altered a one-way traffic sign with a sticker in Osaka on January 3.