COMFORT WOMEN WANTED
(a series of indoor & outdoor Installations)
at Spaces Gallery
at The Incheon Women Artists' Biennale, Korea
Public Art installation
New York City
at 1a Space
Hong Kong, China
Blog about research trip, 2008
to Korea, Taiwan, and Japan
Blog about research trip,
2009-2012 to China, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines
Based on research since 2007, meeting Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Dutch, and Filipino "comfort women" survivors and a former Japanese soldier from W.W.II., this project involves billboards, Kiosk street posters, prints, audio and multi-channel video installation.
COMFORT WOMEN WANTED brings to light the memory of 200,000 young women, referred to as "comfort women," who were systematically exploited as sex slaves in Asia during World War II, and increases awareness of sexual violence against women during wartime.
The gathering of women to serve the Imperial Japanese Army was organized on an industrial scale not seen before in modern history. This project promotes awareness of these women, some of whom are still alive today, and brings to light a history which has been largely forgotten and denied.
The title, COMFORT WOMEN WANTED, is a reference to the actual text of advertisements which appeared in newspapers during the war. When advertising failed, young women from Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Netherlands were kidnapped or deceived and forced into sexual slavery. Most were teenagers, some as young as 12 years old, and were raped by as many as fifty soldiers a day at military rape camps, known as "comfort stations." Women suffered serial and gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and torture, sometimes resulting in mutilation, and even death. By some estimates only 30% survived the ordeal.
Whenever there's a war we hear about the suffering of soldiers, yet we hear almost nothing about the plight of women who are kidnaped and raped, or killed. Often it is the poorest and most marginalized elements of society who suffer most. Through out history women like this are too often invisible, forgotten and left with no place to turn.
The "Comfort Women System" is considered the largest case of human trafficking in the 20th century. Much in the same way that acknowledgment and awareness of the Holocaust helps to insure it will not happen again, by acknowledging this issue we can prevent another generation of enslaved "comfort women" from happening anywhere ever again.
In the 21st century, human trafficking has surpassed drug trafficking to become the second largest business in the world after arms dealing. The "comfort women" issue illustrates the victimization which women suffer in terms of gender, ethnicity, politics, and class oppression, and how women are still perceived as a disposable commodity. This project promotes empowerment of these and all women, and seeks to establish a path toward a future where oppression is no longer tolerated.
On July, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H. Resolution 121, proposed by Mike Honda, Japanese-American Congressman, with 168 bipartisan cosponsors, calling for Japan's acknowledgment of the sexual enslavement of "Comfort Women," and acceptance of historical responsibility. Similar resolutions have passed in Canada, the Netherlands, the European Union, and Great Britain.
Ad-like Billborads, Kiosk Posters, and Prints:
The text COMFORT WOMEN WANTED is in black atop a red background. There are two black & white portraits of former "comfort women" when they were young, including a portrait of a Taiwanese "comfort woman" taken by a Japanese soldier during her enslavement. These images of the women are surrounded by gold leaf, suggesting the halo of a saint from Renaissance painting. These portraits of young "comfort women" are juxtaposed with silhouettes of aged former "comfort women" in their current homes. Of those who survived, many of the women never went back, or they were ostracized from their families and communities because of what was perceived as their "shameful past" in a conservative society cherishing women's chastity as ideal. For most of these women, the sense of home was forever destroyed. To highlight this fact the central image of the prints, rather than being a portrait, contains an empty silhouette.
Audio and Multi-Channel Video Installation:
Historian Suzanne O'Brien has written that
"the privileging of written documents works to exclude from history...the voices of the kind of people comfort women represent - the female, the impoverished, the colonized, the illiterate, and the racially and ethnically oppressed. These people have left few written records of their experiences, and therefore are denied a place in history."
In the audio installation, when people pick up a phone handset, they can hear the voices of "comfort women" survivors on one side which contrasts with the voice of a Japanese soldier on the opposite side.
In the multi-channel video installation, the Korean, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Chinese, and Dutch "comfort women" survivors, and a former Japanese soldier talk about their experiences at the military comfort stations, as well as their everyday hopes and dreams, and who they are as people. These women also sing their favorite traditional folk songs in Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese, and Dutch. This presents the women as individuals rather than as victims and highlights the experiences we all share, in order to put these monumental events in context. These are the stories and voices of the survivors.
Another projection shows three videos simultaneously, of former military comfort stations in China and Indonesia. The three comfort stations depicted in the video are "Dai Salon," the first comfort station ever in Asia; "Mei Mei Li," a large complex of buildings in Shanghai; and an Indonesian comfort station which existed in a former Dutch officer's house in Java. This video is about the history and memory of place.
Despite growing awareness of the issue of trafficking of women and of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity, this particular recent historical event has gone largely unacknowledged. COMFORT WOMEN WANTED attempts to bring to light this instance of organized violence against women, and to create a constructive dialogue for the future by acknowledging their place in history.
My deepest respect and admiration for all of the courageous "comfort women" survivors I have met.
I encountered so many amazing women including Young Soo Lee (Korea), Wan Aihua (the first Chinese "comfort woman" to come forward in China), and Jan Ruff O'Herne (the first European "comfort woman" to come forward publicly), as well as Professor Jung Oak Yun and Professor Hyo Chae Lee, who began the movement in Asia to bring to light this particular history.
In Korea, Young-Soo Lee halmuni, Ong-lyeon Park halmuni, Oak-seon Yi halmuni. Gun-ja Kim halmuni, Oak-seon Park halmuni, Soon-ok Kim halmuni, Il-Chul Kang halmuni, Soon-Duk Lee halmuni, and Chun-hee Bae halmuni. Professor Jung Oak Yun, Professor Hyo Chae Lee, Hwa Jong Lee, Professor Keum Hye Park, Professor Tae Guk Jun, Won Soon Park Social Designer, Eunju Park, Shin Kweon Ahn, and Mee Hyang Yoon
In Taiwan, Shyou Fung Ho ahma, Hsiu-mei Wu ahma, Yang Chen ahma, Man-mei Lu ahma, Yin-Chiao Su ahma, and Hwa Chen ahma. Graceia Lai, Shu-Hue Kang, Huiling Wu, Li-Fang Yang, Margaret Shiu, Ann Yao, Rita Chang, Melissa Chan, Betsy Lan, Chi-Hsi Chao and Emily Chao.
In China, Wan Aihua dayang, Professor Zhiliang Su, and Ye Chen,
In Indonesia, Emah Kastimah, Marjiyah, and Eka Hindrati.
In Australia, Jan Ruff O'Herne.
In Japan, Yasuji Kaneko, Mina Watanabe, Alison Scott, Eriko Ikeda, Murayama Ippei, Georg Kochi, Misuzu Yamamoto, Hiroko Murata and Tatsuhiko Murata.
In The Philippines, Nelia Sancho, Lola Julia Porras, and lola Fedencia David
In the USA, Congressman Mike Honda, Margaret Cogswell, Erin Donnelly, Felicity Hogan, Teri Chan, Paul Clay, Soon Hee Lee, Chang Soo Lee, Dai-Sil Kim, Ok Cha Soh, Ph. D., Annabel Park, Jokotri Taro, Amy Goldrich, Rima Yamazaki, Aiko Miyatake, Grace Qh Zhao, Phillia Kim Downs, and many others who have supported this project.
This project is made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts Grant,, the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Asian Cultural Council, and the Asian Women Giving Circle.