This post looks at a few of the participating artists’ work on the challenging subject of sexual violence in times of conflict, taken from both a historical and global perspective.
Niamh Cunningham: Hair Lock Knitted artist’s hair 36 x 66 cm 2015 (Click on the side bar of this page for a short video about making this)
The first exhibition of the “Intimate Transgressions” project was launched at the WhiteBox gallery NYC on September 3rd. This multi media exhibition explores the human experience of war from a gender perspective and aims to give a better public understanding of the institutional and individual violence towards women which occurs during conflicts. The exhibition was presented by CAPA (Center for Asian Pacific Affairs) and WhiteBox Gallery.
The so named ‘Comfort Women’ were from Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan and other countries occupied by the Japanese, they were abducted, forced into sexual slavery and treated with such extreme brutality, that most did not survive the war. After the hostilities their plight was side-lined with no one held accountable for their sufferings and their story was wiped from Japanese history books by those in power.
Photographic artist Gao Yuan came to China to document some of the few surviving Comfort women.
Say Sorry, I’ll Forgive You, Gao Yuan 2015, detail from mixed media installation, photo courtesy of the artist
Curated by Fion Gunn and Juan Puntes, the exhibition makes several references to this starting point . During World War II Japanese soldiers had been initiated into an exceptionally brutal military system and their actions were sanctioned and encouraged by the army hierarchy. As vulnerable young men themselves, at the receiving end of fierce punishment, they could easily be encouraged or coerced into committing atrocities. The legacy of the ‘Comfort Women’ phenomenon in the organised use of rape as a means of subjugation and ethnic cleansing, has become a new norm in many conflicts.
The chief curator of the project Fion Gunn who is also an artist says ….”The effects of this on women and girls are painfully obvious. In considering their experience we need to ask what does this do to men and boys? how do our societies recover their balance and psychological health for the future? ”
Kamikaze Idyll Mixed Media – Fion Gunn
Artist Michael Lisle-Taylor bears witness to the culture of madness and transgression which is commonplace amongst men in the military. He investigated the ‘drill’ as a means of undermining natural human reactions and promoting hyper-masculinity which underpins this body of work.
Bride Michael Lisle- Taylor ‘Bop it! ‘ Michael Lisle- Taylor
Lisle-Taylor was a soldier for 12 years and some of his work reflects on the military experience as a decorative straightjacket. Using beautiful uniforms which he has learned to sew himself as a metaphor for the pride, pomp and restrictive codes of army life. He talks of his process as the insubordinate dissection by reshaping and modifying through every rivet and stitch reflecting again on the “drill”. Watching the artists video piece I couldn’t help wondering how many times his finger nails must have caught the machine needle.
Egyptian artist Nermine Hammam worked 20 imageprints in Japanese stylized
landscapes intersected with footage of police and army brutality in the year following Egypt’s 2011 revolution. The photographic work came from public sources which were widely circulated in the media.
Unfolding Series No 8 Nermine Hammam
Anita Glesta ‘s installation is based on the Jewish and Roma women in the death camps during WWII. She has taken a version of a story where a soldier Josef Schillinger, who was shot and killed by a young woman possibly a dancer in the undressing room of the Birkenau camp gas chamber October 1943. An essay by historian Kirsty Chatwood explores a version of this story in which the young and beautiful dancer seduced the SS guards by undressing provocatively, then grabbed their guns while they were distracted.
Glesta says “I decided to incorporate overhead and wall projections of a partially-undressed woman shooting upwards at the viewer to acknowledge that even in the most horrifying of circumstances women’s sexuality is not only about victimization. It can be a survival mechanism, a weapon and a source of empowerment.”
Schillinger and the Dancer Anita Glesta
Andi Arnovitz explores the challenge of the woman within Judaism along with cultural and political expectations.
Living in Israel means having sons and daughters who have to go into the army. Of concern to her as a mother, is this specific aspect of war and violence, and the never ending worry for their physical and emotional well being.
In the Mother and Sons series you can see the metaphorical umbilical cord still connecting a mother to a child who is fighting in the battle field.
Mother and Sons etching/aquatint Andi Arnovitz
Andi Arnovitz , A.N.V.I.L. Art Collective, Niamh Cunningham Regina José Galindo, Anita Glesta, Fion Gunn, Nermine Hammam, Jusuf Hadžifejzović, Šejla Kamerić , Teresa Margolles, Elahe Massoumi, Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, Chen Meitsen, Chen Qingqing, Atsuko Nakamura, Yoshiko Shimada, Gail Ritchie, Xin Song, Michael Lisle-Taylor, Ma Yanling & Wang Bingmi , Gao Yuan in association with Francesca Arri , Jelena Tomasević
The show will continue to travel to Beijing October 25th at InterArt Gallery in 798 . The project has plans to tour various cities in Europe and Mexico before returning to the US.
I have only taken a brief look at a few works here , please take a look at the extensive information on the following links
There will also be a panel discussion in New York on Thursday 1 October from 7 pm
The Act of Doing- Panel Discussion
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.
Panelists include Eleanor Heartney, Shirin Neshat , Luisa Valenzuela.
Introduced by Marjorie Martay,
Moderated by Anita Glesta and Fion Gunn
Respondents: Anthony Hayden – Guest , Juan Puntes & Raoul Zamudio