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Against Forgetting

 

Introduction Speech by Yong Soon Min 

 

Hi everyone, thank you for coming here on this beautiful sunny afternoon.  My name is Yong Soon Min. I am an artist based in Los Angeles. I’m pleased to introduce the artists and their performances for today’s event but before the introductions, I’d like to provide a brief background and the context of why these performances are held here at the Glendale Central Park and how the significance of this site adds critical meaning to the two performances that will take place here.  

 

At the outset, I want to recognize Kim Hyun Jung, also known to American audiences as Phyllis Kim, who is the Executive Director of the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC), an organization devoted to the comfort women issues.  In addition to keeping us informed with periodic email newsletters, our gratitude goes to Phyllis for her herculean efforts to gain the full city council support for this Comfort Women Memorial to be located here at Glendale Central Park and the continued work to keep the Japanese government’s hand off the memorial.  

 

This memorial is very first dedicated to the comfort women established on the West Coast in 2013.  Since then another memorial has been established in San Francisco last year. The Japanese government has been and continues to be absolutely relentless in their effort to deny the history of what this monument stands for and in their effort to destroy and dismantle this and every other memorial that exits nationally and internationally.  

 

The history that Japan denies, that most of you know, but are white –washed in the Japanese official history books is that the Japanese ironic term – “comfort women” and comfort stations” named “ existed everywhere that the Japanese military advanced throughout Asia during WW II, from 1932-1945.  While the Japanese government doesn’t deny that comfort women worked in comfort stations during the war, they promote the notion that comfort stations were NOT the operation of the official Japanese government but that of private entrepreneurs and that the comfort women were essentially prostitutes. In reality, the 200,000 girls were coerced as sex slaves.  The vast majority were from the then colonized Korea but also from China, Philippines, Indonesia and other countries.

 

As a form of compensation, the Japanese government raised money from the private sector for the comfort women without any official governmental apology.  This was counter to what the majority of former comfort women struggled for: an unequivocal official governmental apology and funds and equally important: ongoing education that will keep this history alive.   Phyllis informed us recently that another comfort woman, a halmoni or grandmother as they are known in Korea has passed away so that now there are only 30 living harmonis who are in the south Korean registry.  

 

Our awareness about this history and the movement got it’s start with Kim Hak-soon, a former Comfort Woman in the Republic of Korea, who in 1991 testified in public that she had been forcibly taken as a Comfort Woman by the Japanese military. This significant act opened the door for other comfort women to come out from the shadows.  The harmonis and the various early activists in Korea and Japan were responsible for the research as well as raising international attention to this history.   

 

Of all the memorials that have been established, I am personally particularly fond of this memorial as it is a replica of the first memorial to be established in Seoul in 2011, called Peace Monument. Brilliantly conceptualized and executed by artists who are a couple based in Seoul and funded by a non-profit organization, the bronze sculpture of a young girl is strategically situated directly in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. And the seated girl next to an empty chair that we can see here with her fists on her knees is looking quietly and purposely, in Seoul, at the Japanese embassy.  The Seoul monument is the site for demonstrations held every Wed for the halmoni’s in their effort to claim their rights.  

 

Now for the introductions:

 

I’m excited that Yoshiko Shimada who has come from Japan is one of the performers here as our paths has crossed several times since the late 90s when our works about comfort women were included in the same publications and also in 2002 when I included her work in an exhibition that I curated for the 4th Gwangju Biennial.  

 

Born and raised in Tachikawa section of western Tokyo where US air force base was located, Yoshiko gained exposure to US-Japan postwar tensions during the 60s.  She graduated with BA in Humanities from Scripps College in 1982 and in 2015, received a PhD from the Art, Design, Architecture department of the Kingston University in London.  

 

Among the themes Yoshiko explores are cultural memory and the role of women in WW2 as both aggressors and victims.  For example, her 1992 etching entitled “Shooting Lesson” juxtaposes portraits of 4 Korean comfort women with a photograph of the wives of Japanese military police stationed in Korea receiving shooting lessons for self-protection against the local population.   

 

In 2012, Yoshiko first performed “Becoming a Statue of a Japanese Comfort Women” outside the Japanese embassy in London.  She will perform this piece again here. This project is based on the history of Japanese comfort women who serviced Japanese soldiers during WW2 as well as US military that occupied Japan after the war, who have been ignored and rendered invisible by the Japanese government and society.  In addition to the denial by the government of forcible sexual slavery during and the period after the war, there continues to be social stigma preventing Japanese women to come out for their rights. One Japanese comfort woman, Suzuko Shirota courageously wrote of her experience of sexual slavery during WW2 in her memoir published by a Christian shelter in 1971 where she lived the rest of her life until her death in 1993.  About 10 percent of the 200,000 Asian comfort women, were Japanese women.

 

This piece strikes to the heart of the Japanese government inability to come to terms with it’s past war crimes as well as the institutionalized sexism.   

The other performers are Tomorrow Girls Troop which was established in 2015 with members consisting artists, activists, and academics based in Japan, South Korea and the U.S.  Like any self-respectable millennial group, TGT has a dynamic and very cool website with great graphics and information about their identity and activities that includes exhibitions, performances, petitions and protests and lectures and workshops.  

TGT wear rabbit masks for in part for anonymity, and also for their hopes to reclaim and redefine the animal, which conventional Japanese folklore characterizes as meek and docile.  Instead TGT seeks to represent the rabbit as a symbol of empowerment, to go with their message of raising awareness of feminism and gender equality in one of the most entrenched patriarchies in the developed world

Their home page leads with this declaration:  We can do it!

TGT further declares: “For equality of all sexualities and genders in East Asia.We are fourth wave feminists. Our genders and nationalities vary. This is a social art group. We work based on the internet.We focus on gender inequality issues in Japan and Korea through art and social projects. Our goal is to educate in order to achieve gender equality for all men, women and members of the LGBT community.” 

Although they address issues particular to Korea and Japan, they recognize how their work might resonate with our current situation and with the “Me Too” movement here. TGT will be presenting a new performance.

 

Today’s performances and our being here all contribute enormously to the ongoing fight against Japanese government’s effort to silence us.  

HERE’S TO KEEPING THIS HISTORY ALIVE!!!