Chang-Jin Lee: Comfort Women Wanted

Chang-Jin Lee is a Korean-American visual artist who lives in New York City.Lee attended Parsons School of Design and earned her BFA from the State University of New York at Purchase.

South Korea – 

This project is based on my trips to Asia since 2008, interviewing the Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Dutch “comfort women” survivors, and a former Japanese Soldier from World War 2.

COMFORT WOMEN WANTED  brings to light the memory of 2,00,000 young women, referred to as “comfort women,” who were systematically exploited as sex slave in Asia during World War 2, and increases awareness of sexual violence against women during war time.

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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 there weren’t enough volunteer prostitutes through the ad campaigns, 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 between 10 to 100 soldiers a day at military rape camps, known as “comfort camps.” Women were starved, beaten, tortured, and killed. By some estimates  only 30%survived the ordeal.

 

Whenever there’s a war we hear about sufferings 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 the most. Through out 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 acknowledge 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.

 

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 21st century, human trafficking has surpassed drug trafficking to become the second largest business in the world after arms dealings. The “comfort women” issue illustrates the victimization which women suffer in terms of gender, ethically, 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.

 

Art & Culture Written and Documented by – Chang-Jin Lee  

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