Art has a powerful way of crossing language boundaries and barriers of the heart to convey a personal message. Some of the most effective activism for social change for wartime sex slaves have come through art (ie. multimedia art, the bronze comfort woman memorial) and films.
ART제안, a talented group of Korean artists from South Korea, held an art exhibit on wartime sex slavery, euphemistically known as “comfort women” at the Hague, Netherlands last winter. These artists poured heart and soul into their powerful art. Thanks to former MP Kathleen Ferrier who helped organize the Hague event. Kathleen met the artists in Hong Kong during their first exhibition in October 2017.
I asked one of the organisers from Seoul, artist Eunyoung Heo to share her thoughts about the exhibit. Eunyoung wrote:
This year, ArtZeAn held an exhibition in The Hague with Dutch artists under the theme “E-Witness: Women and War.” E-Witness means a witness, who through digital means brings back first-person accounts that we must remember from the past or the present into the present and the future.
Through this exhibition, the artists paid attention to the existence of witnesses who have come back to us today. At the same time, an artist who speaks on behalf of someone who can’t speak is another kind of witness. Therefore, E-Witness incorporates these concepts of witnesses.
The organizers of Quartair and ArtZeAn were able to organize a joint event to display these artworks with the Institute of International Studies in The Hague. On November 21, participants from various fields including artist, activists, and students discussed the topic of ‘Beyond Victimhood.’
This talk was led by Professor Kees Biekart of ISS with guest speakers Kathleen Ferrier and Malini Laxminarayan, the program officer from Mukwege Foundation, with artist Shim Jung-ah of ArtZeAn participating in the discussion. Discussing Japanese military sexual slavery also tells us a story about human rights activists and the Statues of Peace.
On November 24, Professor Biekart guided participants through various places in the town of Hague that showed a shameful and painful side of history. South Korea’s artists had previously informed other participants about East Asian female sexual slavery as a focus in the discussion of human right abuses, while the Dutch participants informed the visiting Korean artist about the former slave trade shaped by the global economy at the time. Both groups shared their history of deeply rooted inequality and exploitation of those in weak positions.
Most of all, many people were impressed with Kathleen Ferrier, who followed up last year’s Hong Kong exhibition’s opening speech with another impressive speech at Quartair, and the discussion held by ISS. Thanks to her, ArtZeAn’s activities and the meaning of the works to the artists, were able to shine at the exhibition. (by artist Eunyoung Heo)