The Korean Peace Monument in Glendale celebrated its 10th anniversary this past weekend, alongside the opening of “Women and War: A Contemporary Art Perspective,” a new exhibit at ReflectSpace Gallery at Glendale Central Library.
The Peace Monument, which can be seen at Glendale Central Park, was built to pay homage to “comfort women,” which is “a euphemistic term for the hundreds of thousands of young women and girls who were coerced, abducted and imprisoned as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces as part of their militaristic expansion in the Asia Pacific region, beginning in 1932 until the end of World War II,” according to Comfort Women Action for Redress and Education, a community organization that focuses on advocacy and education regarding the “comfort women.”
“[The monument] is a reminder for people that these horrible crimes against humanity happened and it was not resolved,” Phyllis Kim, the executive director of CARE, told the News-Press. “The city of Glendale saw that importance and was able to make a connection with this history … and the fact that it’s not just a regional issue but it is representative of women’s universal human rights issues.”
Most of the “comfort women” were from Korea and China, however, victims ranged from other areas including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Despite calls of action for the Japanese government to acknowledge and accept responsibility for these human rights violations, including from the U.N. Human Rights Commission, they have yet to do so.
Every year since the monument was created, Glendale Library, Arts & Culture has curated an exhibit to coincide with the monument’s anniversary. This year’s exhibit “shows a little bit of experiences of the ‘comfort women,’ but it also expands the scope and gives a chance for people to pause and reflect about how war affects the lives of women and why it should not be repeated and how horrible it is to experience it,” said Kim.
Curated by Monica Hye Yeon Jun and open through Sept. 24, the Women and War exhibit features art from three Korean artists: Kim Chang Kyum, Choi Chongwoon and Zu Do Yang — each representing either the past, present or future.
Kim Chang Kyum, representing the past, created a media art installation which depicts an image of a woman reflected in swaying waves, which represents the turmoil “comfort women” endured. Representing the present, Choi crafted a chair with interactive media elements inspired by the Statue of Peace in Korea with the underlying message that “historical denial cannot silence us, and history and memory cannot be erased.” For the future, Zu displays various photographic portraits of everyday people, posing questions about the progress of gender issues.
Following the installation of the Peace Monument, Global Alliance for Historical Truth-US Corporation, a group that denies “comfort women” were sex slaves, filed a lawsuit against the city of Glendale calling for the monument to be removed. The suit, which was supported by the Japanese government, lasted three years and was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who denied hearing the case in 2017, meaning the monument was here to stay.
In the end, Phyllis Kim saw the lawsuit almost as a positive thing as it put the monument on the “international map.”
“[The lawsuit] actually was helpful for us,” she said. “Because of that controversy, more people became interested in learning of the history and more teachers became interested and more students became interested. So many people came to see the Glendale statue.”
She also highlighted the humble nature of the statue.
“It’s there to talk about the experiences of these women in a very calm voice,” Phyllis Kim said. “It’s a very solemn statue. It doesn’t scream. It doesn’t bash anybody, but it just tells the experience.”
Phyllis Kim also pointed out that CARE works with a number of Japanese American groups and that the denial of the “comfort women” is reflective of the Japanese government, not necessarily of Japanese people.
In addition to the exhibit at ReflectSpace, works by Dutch photographer and artist Jan Banning and student artists — Seung Chan, Won Hwang, Ian B. Kim, Yoomin Lee, Woohyung Jung and Audrey Kim — are displayed in PassageWay Gallery at the Central Library.
First published in the August 5 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.