All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Jessica Dallow

Advisory Committee Members

Cathleen Cummings

Lucy Curzon

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2017

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The case of the comfort women of East Asia is one of the largest human trafficking epidemics to have taken place in the twentieth century. It remains, however, an issue that is still widely unknown to the general public and has been obscured in both Eastern and Western historical texts up until the early 1990s. Scholars have determined that an estimated two hundred thousand young girls, now referred to as the comfort women, were forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese army during WWII. Of this number, seventy percent of the women did not survive the war. Currently, only forty are still alive today. My thesis focuses on three different memorial projects, Monument to Peace (2012), Yong Soon Min’s Wearing History / WHEN / NOW (2007 – 2014), and Chang Jin Lee’s Comfort Women Wanted (2008 – 2013), to consider how these artworks are tools of advocacy for both the individual comfort women and for a community in need of redress. Chapter one shows how the Monument to Peace and its replicas of a Korean comfort girl attempt to operate beyond the tensions of Japanese and Korean political agendas and have become symbolic of all comfort women. Further, they are a part of the comfort women’s international activism and community building and are groundbreaking as the first public commemorations in the U.S. dedicated to sexual assault victims. Chapter two shows how Min’s three-part clothing series Wearing History / WHEN / NOW highlights the continuing presence of comfort women who still suffer and mourn. I show how the artist’s process of internalizing their trauma by wearing the t-shirts and taking on the role of a secondary witness creates an empathetic identity that becomes a performance strategy to visually enact their collective state of loss. Further, Min shares the responsibility of educating others about the comfort women issue with anyone who dares to also wear the t-shirts, transforming her personal project into a collective, public action. Finally, chapter three focuses on propaganda posters from Lee’s multi-media project Comfort Women Wanted. Built upon the testimonies of individual comfort women, the posters expose the inconsistencies of the state’s memory and rejects Japan’s narrative of the history of the comfort women. Although a wealth of historical, political, and sociological scholarship exists on the comfort women, little has been written about artistic responses to the subject. This thesis will address this gap in existing scholarship to argue that retrieving and validating the individual experiences of the comfort women vis-Ã -vis the visual language of memorial artworks not only encourages public awareness, but also provides spaces for individual and collective mourning. In doing so, the memorials reveal various strategies for how a public discourse can take place outside of the sanction of Japan’s version of the history of the comfort women.

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