The Comfort Women Project: Dedicated to the comfort women and all those who have suffered from sexual violence and sexual abuse.
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.
The dress images were taken from sketches of robes that the comfort women wore when they were forced to provide sex for the military men. The map used is a copy of an original 1937 map of eastern China. The red french knots in Comfort Women Quilt Map and Comfort Stations in China mark the locations of the comfort stations in eastern China. The text quotes are from Chinese comfort women. Chinese Comfort Women, Testimonies From Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves, cited above. All works are on handmade paper with pulp painting made by Rose Camastro-Pritchett at the Center for Book & Paper Arts, Chicago.
COMFORT WOMEN PROJECT EXHIBITIONS
85 Years, 85 Artists, Menlo College, Atherton, CA, USA, 2014 Platforms Projects, Art Athina, International Contemporary Art Fair, Athens, Greece, 2014, 2016 Altered, Christopher Art Gallery, Prairie State College, Chicago Heights, IL, USA, 2018 Do the Right Thing: Comfort Women Resist, Reflective Space Gallery, Glendale Library, Glendale, CA, USA, 2018 Comfort Women Project, Menlo College, Atherton, CA, USA, 2018
STUDENT AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The intent of the Comfort Women Project is to provide a platform for dialogue about sexual violence. This includes participation in an installation addressing the effect of sexual violence on individuals, their families and friends and the community at large; panel discussions on the comfort women, the effect of trauma and sexual violence and the #MeToo movement.