Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Now-contested "Comfort Woman" Statue

Since Park Guen-hye says she accepted the apology of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, a political apology that is said to have been made to ease tensions in Asia, there are certain terms of giving and accepting the apology which are to be met. One of terms is the removal of the symbolic girl in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. The girl is a symbol of the "comfort women" who were forcibly made to sexually serve the Japanese military during the late occupation years (early 1940s) of the Korean peninsula. The girl sits facing the Japanese embassy, a symbol of youth ripped away and who sits there to confront the Japanese every day for their war crimes, which still have yet to be apologized for to the people who were aggressed against. 

The young girls, now called as "grandmothers" due to their age-group, have demonstrated in front of the Japanese embassy in the past 24 years more than 1,200 times. They have demanded an apology, but never has a Japanese ambassador come to watch, to talk, to listen, or to apologize. Only 42 or 43 of the former 286 "comfort women" who publicly "came out" remain alive, and they are in their late 80s and 90s. Time is definitely running out, and yet no apology to them seems forthcoming. However, the terms of the phone apology to Park Guen-hye requires the removal of the "comfort woman" statue, symbolic evidence of aggression, exploitation and abuse of power on women and a colonial society on a grand scale. 

Many of the "grandmothers" are bedridden, unable to protest. Volunteer activists stand in proxy of the grandmothers and defend the removal of the statue. Since the end of December 2015, they have stayed by the statue 24/7 preventing its removal. In the winter when temperatures dropped well below freezing, they huddled under piles of blankets. In rain it's the same, huddled under plastic sheets. They say the statue will not be removed until a real apology is forth-coming. 

And to symbolize the discomfort that the weather brings the nation, the volunteer protestors, and the Koreans as a whole, the statue is appropriately attired for the weather conditions it must "suffer" through in its endless wait.

SYMBOLOGY of the Statue of Peace / 평화나비 (Peace to her):
"Yeongjong Kim who is head of Jongno-gu has provided design ideas and works of art in the form of a girl instead of a memorial stone. Statue of Peace was built by Unseong Kim and Seogyeong Kim couple. The statue is about 130 cm and is dressed in a skirt and blouse, and an appearance in the girl with small hands and short hair sitting and staring at the Embassy of Japan." Statue of Peace
The design of the statue is imbued with symbols to communicate meaning to the viewers:
  • round face - the typical face shape of the 1920s 
  • hanbok - the proper and modest attire of a young girl or a Korean citizen at the time when the girls were forcibly taken
  • roughly shorn hair - severed relationship between the girl and her home country and her family
  • bird on her shoulder - middle object connecting the past experiences with the present life
  • clenched fists - an expression of the girl's outrage at the Japanese government for their silence and disregard of the girl's loss of innocence, family, home and a chance of a normal life
(not pictured)
  • slightly raised heel of the girl - though a return of the girl to her homeland, she is still not firmly transplanted back in the Korean society
  • empty chair beside the girl - a seat for the girls who never returned, a seat also for people to come and sit with the girl and share time and companionship with the girl
  • shadow under the girl - the shape of a girl who never returned but is metaphysically hovering; also the shape of a grandmother as she passes on but her "presence" is still felt by the presence of the girl who continues to sit and stare at the Japanese embassy, waiting for an apology
  • butterfly - (nestled in the heart of the shadow) a symbol of fluttering hope

For more symbology surrounding the 'comfort woman" statue watch 

The House of Sharing 

According to a placard inside of the House of Sharing Museum, more appropriately known as the Museum of Sexual Slavery by the Japanese Military, a museum dedicated to shedding history on the "comfort woman" issue, there are many "comfort woman" statues and memorials throughout Korea. I am unclear on whether these statues and memorials are also part of the demands for removal according to the terms of Japanese Prime Minister Abe's "apology", but they probably are. I was surprised, but the House of Sharing Museum also has a map of "comfort woman" memorials in the US. For more information, visit the online House of Sharing.

The red dots show where monuments and shrines for the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery are (as of 2015). So the 'comfort woman' statue in front of the Japanese embassy is just an example of the sentiment throughout the entire South Korean peninsula about the need for recognition to the problem and the need for a formal apology from Japan for their heinous war crime(s).This picture was taken at the House of Sharing, a home dedicated to care for the grandmothers euphemistically called former 'comfort women'.
Information about the location of the 'comfort woman' shrines and memorials in South Korea.

The following was taken from the House of Sharing on the 14 June 2016 entry, Facebook. "The House of Sharing International Outreach team would like to share some saddening, extremely disappointing and disturbing news. The Peace Statue in Seoul was attacked today. (June 3rd) A woman hit the head of the statue with a hammer three times and left scars. She was arrested and confessed that she was paid to do so. Why? We know why and can guess who asked her to do that. We are so saddened by so called grown-ups' childish and animalistic behavior." 

The Peace Statue struck and scarred by a woman hired to do so. (June 3, 2016)

No comments:

Post a Comment