ReflectSpace at Downtown Central presents Do the Right Thing: (dis)comfort women, an exhibition reflecting on the silence and dialogue by and about the women who were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II. The exhibition presents the work of 12 international artists and documentarians and runs from July 20 to September 3, 2017. Opening reception is on Friday, July 21 from 6 to 9 pm. (dis)Comfort Women is co-curated by Monica Hye Yeon Jun, Ara and Anahid Oshagan.
Before and during World War II, over 200,000 women from Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and East Timor were coerced or forcibly transported to “comfort stations” across Japanese occupied territories and repeatedly raped, tortured and brutalized. Most women were under the age of 20, some as young as 12. Many young women were murdered or committed suicide during their enslavement.
And the horrors of their experience did not end with the end of the war. Many were severely traumatized and never married or were unable to bear children as a result of the torture they suffered. Many did not return home and those who did were branded as “Japanese leftovers” and were often derided and ostracized. Humiliated and ashamed, comfort women survivors remained silent for nearly six decades: in isolation, shame, mental and physical ill-health, and often in extreme poverty. Breaking the silence about their experiences was a courageous task. The first public pronouncement by a survivor came in 1991, nearly 50 years later.
“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism coined by the military to soften the scope and viciousness of their system of slavery. The (dis)comfort women exhibit turns this term on its head and develops alternative narratives of the experience by survivors as well as artists. The exhibit includes drawings, watercolor, paintings, sculpture and audio-visual material drawn from a wide range of North American and international artists, professional as well as amateur. (dis)comfort women will show the work of Remedios Felias, a former sex slave who late in life drew a picture diary of her harrowing experience, as well as civic-scale public art banners by NY-based artist Chang-Jin Lee.
The artists’ work not only invites reflection and dialogue but also creates tension: between the inability to speak about personal trauma and the deep human urge to tell. Artists explore this silence and simultaneously break it. (dis)comfort women is held taut in this tension and is a vociferous presence urging the acknowledgment of the horrors, lifelong indignity and shame suffered by the comfort women.