Two individuals display tragic history of comfort women through art
Two individuals display tragic history of comfort women through art
  • Ko Min-seok
  • 승인 2011.12.05 13:36
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▲ "Liberating Herstories: Art Celebration of Survivors," exhibits artworks drawn by the comfort women themselves.
Humiliated, physically tortured, and sexually abused, day and night by Japanese soldiers; this was the life of the “comfort women” during World War II. Being the living history of Korea’s colonial period, the issue of comfort women is still an unsolved problem in Korea.
However, two bright individuals decided to stand up for these women through multimedia art exhibition: Fielding Bradford Wan-sik Hong and Kim Mi-kyoung (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 4).
As the members of The House of Sharing International Outreach Team (IOT), both Hong and Kim tried to raise awareness on the issue of comfort women.
“The House of Sharing’s IOT is a group of native Koreans and expats who work to spread awareness about “comfort women” to the foreign community in Korea and to the international community at large,” Hong said.
Hong is a fourth generation Korean, born under a Korean father and American mother. He is currently participating in Korean Government Scholarship Program provided by the National Institute for International Education. Hong plans to attend the Culture and Gender Studies Master’s Program.
“We also work with like-minded organizations to call attention to current forms of sexual slavery, human trafficking, and violence toward women,” Kim said.
For Hong, he first learned about comfort women while researching the Korean Diaspora as an undergraduate.
Kim, who was raised and educated in Korea, heard piecemeal reports about comfort women in her teenage years.
“The issue was discussed very briefly and I never learned how these women were forcibly taken and suffered,” Kim said.
The House of Sharing, both a museum and residence for old, surviving comfort women, provides both English and Korean tours of its house with free film screenings, concerts, and workshops.
In the course of its work, the House of Sharing’s IOT realized that a number of visitors had documented their emotional experiences through reflecting on what they had learned in various art pieces. Then, Hong and Kim realized that art could provide multiple channels through which to express not only the personal narratives of the survivors and the emotional responses of those hearing these, but also to form expressions of protest against the horrific crimes.
“The artworks made by the surviving comfort women capture their harrowing experiences in the comfort stations,” Hong explained. “These works are at once tragic and beautiful, heartbreaking and empowering. This will be the first to display the women’s own works alongside other contributing international artists here in Korea.”
Kim also added: “Pieces made by people all around the world will be exhibited as well. The diversity of these pieces will represent global interest, and hopefully, Korean audiences will be inspired to be more active in resolving the issue.”
▲ A former comfort women wipes her tears in grief of her tragic memory of the harrowing treatment she received from Japanese soldiers during war.

The exhibition holds the historic significance in itself, but there are more contributing factors in the society since it raises the level of significance and the public interest toward the comfort women issue.
Firstly, the exhibition coincides with the 1,000th consecutive “Wednesday Protest” of the survivors. The Wednesday protest is a demonstration led by the comfort women and their supporters for the pusuit of justice from the Japanese government. The protest has been ongoing in front of the Japanese Embassy in Jongno-gu every Wednesday since 1992.

“The victims are not just survivors - they are activists working for a world without war, violence, or inequality,” agreed Hong and Kim. “These former comfort women continue to fight for justice despite their age, despite the lack of support from the government, and despite years of intransigence by the Japanese government. They continue in their struggle in the face of such obstacles not only for themselves, but so that such a horrendous crime as this never takes place again.”
Secondly, Kim and Hong will be working with Steven Cavallo, an artist who is currently exhibiting works about “comfort women” at the New York Holocaust Center.
This being their first exhibition, and wanting for it to be successful in working as a vehicle to further discussion on the issue, Kim and Hong are expending a lot of time and effort. Moreover, there were some difficulties the two faced while preparing this exhibition.
“Surprisingly, finding a place to host the exhibition was very hard. Most art galleries we contacted were reluctant to get involved with political issues,” Kim said.
“I think it is safe to speak for all of us organizing the exhibition that a lack of sleep, a daily mountain of emails, and the impending date have been constant markers of our current lives,” observed Hong.
Despite a few glitches that Kim and Hong had to deal with, the two reflected that they came to recognize the actual forces that they were struggling against, which reinforced their determination.
“I felt that many people in Korea had become too inured to this issue; that they would not ask what really happened at comfort stations or try to understand how tormenting it was to be there. This exhibition will provide more understanding and explanation for how we should be educating our next generation,” said Kim.
Hong added, “This is a massive organizational undertaking, and we could not have accomplished this without the help and support. It has been a valuable learning experience that will help us be more effective in the pursuit of our mission for future events and  long-term goals.”
“Liberating Herstories: Art Celebration of Survivors,” will take place from Dec. 10 to 16 at Cafe Anthracite near Sangsu Station.
“We hope visitors will come away from the experience inspired - intellectually, emotionally, artistically - to pursue their own paths for making the world more just,” both Hong and Kim said.

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