I have been installing group exhibitions with Fion Gunn in China for over 4 years, this recent show was different. Participating artists came from over 13 countries, each compelled to make
their statement on sexual violence as a weapon of war. The narrative for this begins with the issue of the comfort women and extends to a contemporary perspective. This project was presented by Sam Chen, president of CAPA Centre for Asian Pacific Affairs based in Flushing NYC. Some artists had shown work in the first show in New York September 2015 and others are artists living and working in China. As co curator for this show at Inter Gallery in 798 , I was on familiar ground working with Fion Gunn and also with the venue Inter Gallery where we had already installed an Irish Wave exhibition earlier this year.
The exhibition investigates individual and collective accountability, it is not a documentary of horrors nor a mechanism for assigning blame but it does speak of loss and resilience, of sorrow and our shared humanity, aiming to bring insight and perspective and also to allow space for the viewer to consider what continues to happen in the world today. This post will take you on a few of the pathways we built for visitors to explore and learn more about this challenging subject.
As you can see from the front page of the catalogue above the project is ambitious with the line up of intended venues. Hangzhou is planned for April 2016. Hangzhou is an area where the Japanese military had a comfort women camp.
The central narrative for this exhibition is with the issue of the “comfort women” during the Japanese invasions of Asia during World War II . Large portraits of the surviving comfort women in Shanxi by Artist Gao Yuan were connected by her soaring paper planes of indicative of military aircraft . Two portraits faced each other on opposite sides of the space . She has written over the surface of one of the portraits in red calligraphy. This is the image of Zhang Xiantu who passed away on November 12th, she was the last living member of a group of comfort women who sued Japan for an apology and compensation, in 2009 the crime was recognised by Japan’s supreme court but the compensation claims were rejected.
Gao Yuan ,
“Say Sorry and I will Forgive You”
Pan Yiqun’s sculptures of comfort girls are facing outwards .
Prof Pan has been working on a collaborative project in Korea , at the time of this exhibition his sculpture was unveiled in a park in Seoul next to a Korean comfort woman statue. Above Pan’s sculptures is a circular Ink work of trees titles “47 Alive” by Korean artist Sul Park referring to the 47 surviving comfort women in Korea .
This side of the space suggests a domestic setting. At first glance the arrangement of the fibre installation “One Bed , Different Dreams” by QingQing sets an intimate home place where memories and secrets are kept. The artist is well known for her grass and plant fibre installations of Ming dynasty clothing. Nearby the bed is her other work “Private Memory: About my pillow” another fibre work encased in an antique suitcase referencing private suffering.
Also echoing this domestic scene are the traditional type framed photography work of Meng Liping. But these collages are a challenge to historical references to female suppression. “On Show ” is a reminder of how the use of shame and sexuality were used in society with Meng’s response a blatant retort – this is why these women were locked in the stocks.
The work of Israeli artist Andi Arnovitz reflects on the other aspect of times of conflict, the concerns of having children who are conscripted for military service. This exhibition shows four etchings of her “Mothers and Sons” series. Umbilical cords are never really broken.
Rita Duffy’s ink and charcoal paper work “Stitch Pool” and “Running Away from Derry” considers confinement in claustrophobic settings and areas of conflict.
Above is the work by Fion Gunn of China dolls encased in package material (see earlier post) and Song Xin’s “Adam and Eve updated” a collage of media visual records on news relating to the comfort women issue. The printed work “Little Souls” by Lei Yan an artist who served in the PLA for two decades in Yunnan shows burnt children’s clothing rising upwards. As the base are small shoes partly burnt reflecting a different footwear nearby, the pin pierced shoes of Denise Keele-Bedford.
In the centre of the gallery space is a huge black curtain tower encasing Shao Kangs suspended figure “Peach Blossom Spring” a reference to ancient poetry by Tao Yuanming representing a respite and protection for those who have suffered.
This is guarded by the sentinel structures of Michael Lisle Taylor an artist whose earlier life served 12 years in the Fleet Arm forces. There are three military dress uniforms contorted into strait jackets or some form of restricted dress, the work speaks about the system of drill and exploration of military culture and values and their inherent psychological distortions .
Some of the video works included Atsuko Nakamura “Hidden Violence and the Scar”, Anita Glesta’s “Schillinger and the Dancer ” (I have written about this in an earlier post) Regina Jose Gallindo’s “Le Verdad ” a reading of the horrific witness accounts of indigenous Mayans in Guatamala during the 1980’s massacres in Quiche and other areas by state military troops. Our translator Glassia Lu is currently translating these harrowing accounts for Chinese subtitles in preparation for future exhibitions in China. Phoebe Man’s video “One Person One Heart” compiled over 800 drawings of public response on the issue of Comfort Women from people in the US, Britain and Hong Kong.
Gao Yuan’s film on the comfort women in Shanxi had removed the voice sound files of the women and replaced them with animal sounds. This disturbing juxtaposing of the animal is also reflected in the neighbouring work by Chen Meisten Formosa Orchids series, large scale orchids sewn from sacrificial lambskin stained in red and suspended by meat hooks . The Orchids lead a path to another animal reference, the sculpture work “Violette Nozieres” by Heide Hatry made from Pig Skin , eyes and eyelashes and meat once again calling attention to the degrading treatment of humans as nothing more than animals.
This leads to Monika Lins work “Shadow Count”, dozens of floating ceramic lilies in plexi glass plates , each flower is a reported rape case but the nine shadows cast represent unreported sexual violence.
Tami Xiang’s series Nuwa Awakening makes reference to an ancient feudal past where the role of women is hard to fathom in today’s contemporary world.
David Turner’s multiple hama bead images of Korean Comfort girl are dispersed on two walls. Gail Ritchie’s “Little Acts of Cruelty ” are 15 works on the image of the plum inspired by Wing Tek Lum’s poem on the Nanjing Massacre. Next to this is Ma Yanlings photography of her ribbon series and further down Alessandro Rolandi appropriated song from war torn northern Italy during WWII .
At the opening on October 25th 2015 Rosemary Kavanagh from the Embassy of Ireland spoke about a campaign she was involved in New York calling attention to the horrific violence to Congolese women and children. She spoke of a Security Council resolution #1820 which defines sexual violence in conflict areas as an Act of War, this resolution has an active UN committee whose job it is to monitor and implement this resolution .
Sam Chen president of CAPA also spoke of the aims of the project and the importance of supporting awareness of the issue .