Exhibition in Beijing Tells Plight of Wartime Women

October 27, 2015
Editor: Kate Wu

"Intimate Transgressions," which opened in Beijing this week, brought together 34 artists from over 15 countries and regions to exhibit works on the theme of wartime women.

The free exhibition, at the 350-square-meter Inter Gallery in Beijing's 798 Art District, will run until November 1.

"The plight of women in situations of armed conflict should remain at the forefront of the International community's agenda," said Rosemary Kavanagh, wife of Ireland's ambassador to China, at the opening party Sunday evening. The Irish Embassy is one of the exhibition's sponsors, and Kavanagh is an advocate for women's rights.

Kavanagh hoped that the exhibition could draw people's attention to the suffering of women.

"It is important to understand that crimes of this nature all too frequently are not the product of the perpetrator's sexual impulses," she said. "They mainly occur as a result of a premeditated combat strategy aiming to demoralize and destabilize entire communities."

A reoccurring theme of many pieces on show was comfort women, those who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

Sam Chen, president of the New York-based Center for Asia-Pacific Affairs, which aims to promote awareness of humanitarian issues and curates the exhibition, said that comfort women was the starting point of the exhibition.

"We had been thinking about what we could do for the 70th anniversary of the victory of World War II, when remarks by the mayor of Osaka, Japan, grabbed my attention," said Chen. The right-wing politician Toru Hashimoto had claimed that comfort women were "necessary."

She brought visual artist Gao Yuan on board to the project. She later visited 13 former comfort women in the north province of Shanxi.

"I didn't know much about this issue," Gao said. "But my heart ached when I saw these elderly women. They were the last remnants of WWII and they still bear the scars."

"It is so important that the whole world should [...] understand this terrible legacy. I hope my art might go someway to encouraging the Japanese government to say sorry and to accept responsibility for what was done to these women," she added.

Her exhibited works include photos, paper craft and a five-minute film piece. The film, which depicted her interviews with the former comfort women was silenced, the only sound being of animals' groans when they were tied up.

Niamh Cunningham, an artist from Ireland, made a padlock with her own hair. "Hair is often considered a symbol of womanhood," she said.

For Denise Keele-Bedford from Australia's piece, "See me: Hear my Silent Screams," she put needles into a high-heeled shoe. "See the broken virgins; hear the 'comfort women' voices," she wrote.

Chinese-American Song Xin used black and white photos of comfort women from all over the world to make two collages of life-sized, simplified human figures: A male and a female.

Monika Lin from the U.S. created delicate lily flower sculptures, as lilies are a symbol of purity, while "flower girls" is often used to refer to girls forced into prostitution.

Irish artist Fion Gunn confined two Chinese dolls to boxes against the backdrop of Ukiyoe-style pictures. The juxtaposition of the shackles on the dolls and the grins on the faces of Japanese soldiers was uneasy viewing.

With her art, Gunn hopes that society will give victims of sexual violence more support, and reflect on why people do it.

Also curator of the exhibition, Gunn told Xinhua that when she told people in the West about China's role in WWII, many "were shocked."

She felt regretful that China's attempt to have the "comfort women" document inscribed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register failed. She hoped that the exhibition could raise people's awareness of the issue.

"Japanese officials continue to worship at the shrine that honors war criminals. This behavior would be completely unacceptable in Germany," she said. "I hope they will address the issue properly. If people remember, they will not do it again."

Beijing is the second stop of the exhibition, which was first held in New York on September 3. Sam Chen told Xinhua that they are also planning to take the works to Guangzhou; Sydney, Australia; and Taiwan.

In Beijing, guided tours for visitors will be available.

(Source: Xinhua)

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