COMFORT WOMEN WANTED brings to light the memory of 200,000 young women, known 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.
Based on artist Chang Jin-Lee’s research since 2007 in Asia, (including Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia), meeting “comfort women survivors” and a former Japanese soldier from W.W.II, COMFORT WOMEN WANTED involves ad-like prints and multichannel video installation.
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 Asia 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." 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 kidnapped and raped, or killed. Often it is the poorest and most marginalized elements of society who suffer most. Throughout 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.
About the Works
In the ad-like 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.
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 multi-channel video installation, the Korean, Dutch, Taiwanese, Indonesian, and Chinese “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.
About the Artists
Chang-Jin Lee is a Korean-born visual artist based in New York City. Her multicultural background and experiences have provoked in her an interest in investigating the diverse cultural and social/political issues in our current era.
She has exhibited extensively including at The Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale (Korea), Bo Pi Liao Contemporary (Taiwan), The Queens Museum of Art (New York), The World Financial Center Winter Garden (New York), The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (New York), The Franconia Sculpture Park (Minnesota), The Asian American Arts Centre (New York), The Chinese American Arts Council (New York), Van Brunt Gallery (New York), Elizabeth Heskin Gallery (New York), The Peekskill Project (New York), The Bronx River Art Center (New York), and Spaces Gallery (OH).
She is a recipient of numerous awards including The New York State Council on the Arts Grant (New York), Asian Cultural Council Fellowship (New York), The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Grant (New York), The Franconia Sculpture Park Jerome Fellowship (New York), The Asian Women Giving Circle Award (New York), The New York Foundation for the Arts Fiscal Sponsorship Award (New York), The World Financial Center Sponsorship (New York) , The Puffin Foundation Grant, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council - Creative Capital Professional Development Workshop (New York) and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Manhattan Community Arts Fund (New York).