Comfort Women Project

In 2013, I was invited to participate in the 85 Years 85 Artists exhibit at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Each artist was arbitrarily given a year to respond to with an artwork. Mine was 1940. By then I had visited China several times to visit our son Jesse, a lecturer at Jiujiang University, and for artist residencies and a teaching gig at the same university. So I checked out China to learn that, in 1940, "comfort stations" (brothels) had been set up in China by the Japanese military after the Nanking Massacre and were in continual, widespread operation. The military expanded and moved these comfort stations to follow the areas of combat in other countries extending to the end of WWII. "Comfort women" was the Japanese euphemism describing the women rounded up with violence and coercion to become sex slaves to Japanese forces. By war's end, there were over 2,000 comfort stations, and over 200,000 comfort women from Japan, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, and Indochina, including Dutch colonialists, had been forced to become comfort women. Japanese military commanders were fully complicit in procuring women and developing and operating comfort stations. They kept detailed records.

My work about the comfort women expanded. How were the women taken? What went on in the comfort stations? How long were the women there? How were they treated? What happened to them after they returned home? I read more books, saw documentaries, read newspaper accounts, and narrowed my focus to Chinese women. Xuemei Wu PhD, professor of history at Zhon University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, was particularly helpful in discussing the conditions and culture of the Chinese during the war; her grandparents lived in the mountain hills above Wuhan at that time. I was particularly interested in the negative attitude of the Chinese local governments and citizens toward the comfort women once they were released. Commonly they were ostracized and, in some cases, sent to labor camps as a punishment for what the government considered to be consorting with the enemy. 

It is hard to escape the common thread of shame and silence about sexual abuse, whether it is as highly organized and brutal as in the case of the comfort women in China; perpetrated by men of power in Hollywood, the American news media, and the White House; or secretly done by a father to his daughter in Evanston, Illinois. It needs to be talked about, exposed, and not forgotten.

INTENT: The intent of the comfort women project is to provide a platform for dialogue about sexual violence. The common thread of shame and silence about sexual abuse, whether it is as highly organized and brutal as in the case of the comfort women in China; perpetrated by men of power in Hollywood, the American news media, and the White House; or secretly done by a father to his daughter in Evanston, Illinois. It needs to be talked about, exposed, and not forgotten.

STUDENT AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Panel Discussion on the psychology of sexual violence, Sewing Circle creating a large work addressing the shame of sexual abuse and healing, documentary videos about the comfort women, performance art addressing silence and voice. 

The entire project or segments of it have been exhibited at Menlo College, Atherton California; Art Athenia, Athens, Greece; Harrington Mills Studio, Nottingham, England; Prairie State College, Chicago Heights, IL.