Chang-jin Lee – COMFORT WOMEN WANTED
COMFORT WOMEN WANTED brings to light the memory of 200,000 young women, referred to as “comfort women,” who were systematically exploited as Japanese Military sex slaves in Asia during World War II, and increases awareness of sexual violence against women during wartime.
This video is based on Artist Lee’s interviews with Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Dutch “comfort women” survivors, and a former Japanese soldier from W.W.II.
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 Asian 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 11 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. The “Comfort Women System” is considered the largest case of human trafficking in the 20th century.
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 video, the Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Dutch “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, Hakanese, Aboriginal Taiwanese, 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.
Despite growing awareness of the issue of trafficking of women and of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity, this particular history 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.
Public Art in Times Square, New York City, 2013
Ad-like Phone Booth Kiosk Poster in English, with QR Code
The Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale, Korea, 2009
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 and discussions of it by positivist gatekeepers. These “women without history” appear, then, only as they are represented in documents written by those in positions of power and only these documents satisfy the gatekeepers criteria for historical authenticity.
It had only been through their testimonies that survivors have been able to challenge this portrayal.