COMFORT WOMEN WANTED
The Incheon Women Artists' Biennale, Korea, 2009
Public Art in Times Square, New York City, 2013
Public Art in Chelsea, New York City, 2013
This project is based on my trips to Asia since 2008, interviewing with Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Dutch "comfort women" survivors, and a former Japanese soldier from W.W.II.
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 Asian newspapers during the war. When there weren’t enough volunteer prostitutes through the ad campaigns, 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 11 years old, and were raped by between 10 to 100 soldiers a day at military rape camps, known as "comfort stations." Women were starved, beaten, tortured, and killed. 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.
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 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 Ad-like Billboards, Phone Booth Posters, MRT Subway Light Box Displays, and Prints in Multiple Languages:
The text COMFORT WOMEN WANTED is in black atop a red background. In the center are images based on historical photos of the Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Dutch women survivors when they were young, around the time of the war, juxtaposed with contemporary silhouettes of the now aged comfort women, in their current homes. One iconic image is of a Taiwanese "comfort woman" taken by a Japanese soldier during her enslavement. The images of the young women are surrounded by gold leaf, suggesting the halo of a saint from Renaissance painting, and honoring their courage in speaking out. Images of the elderly comfort women, by contrast, are empty silhouettes, and are intended to evoke a sense of loss. Of those who survived, many never went back home, 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 lost.
Audio and Multichannel Video Installation:
In the audio installation, two old fashioned telephones hang on either side of a red column referencing a phone booth. 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. The installation creates the impression of a direct personal and intimate moment between the listener and the survivor.
In the multichannel video installation, the Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, 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. The women also sing their favorite traditional folk songs in Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, 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, that I recorded. 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.
Names and Songs:
Recreation of Comfort Station:
Outside, welcoming and regulations banners are hung from floor to ceiling, creating fabric walls. During
Inside, videos of former comfort stations in Asia, including Dai Salon in Shanghai, the first comfort station
Despite growing awareness of the issue of trafficking of women and of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity, this particular history has gone largely unacknowledged. COMFORT WOMEN WANTED attempts to bring to light this instance of organized violence against women, and to create a dialogue 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, Livia Straus, Barbara Corti, Marc Payot, Hali Lee, Angie Wang, Aiyoung Choi, Emily Colasacco, Wendy Feuer, Agnes Hsu, Bomsinae Kim, Dr. Charles K. Armstrong, Margaret Cogswell, Erin Donnelly, Felicity Hogan, Teri Chan, Paul Clay, Soon Hee Lee, Chang Soo Lee, Dai-Sil Kim, Dr. Ok Cha Soh, Aiko Miyatake, Agnes Bing Magtoto, Vera Chen, Jokotri Taro, Amy Goldrich, Rima Yamazaki, Grace Qh Zhao, Phillia Kim Downs, Michele Messina, Helen Chung, and many others who have supported this project.
This project has been supported by The New York State Council on the Arts Grant, The Asian Women Giving Circle Grant, The Asian Cultural Council Fellowship, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's MCAF, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fiscal Sponsorship, The Korean American Community Foundation Sponsorship, and The New York City Department of Transportation Urban's Art Program.