Chang-Jin Lee exhibition opens at Wood Street Galleries


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A little-known and shocking story from World War II is that of the "comfort women," a euphemism for an estimated 200,000 sex slaves imprisoned to service members of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Korean-born artist Chang-Jin Lee, who resides in New York, will speak about her research and related artworks at 6:30 p.m. Friday during the 5:30 to 8 p.m. opening for her exhibition "Comfort Women Wanted" at Wood Street Galleries, Downtown (free).

The exhibition title refers to advertisements placed in newspapers during the war, Ms. Lee explains in her artist statement. The response to the ads was insufficient, and young Asian and European women, most teenagers and some as young as 11, were then kidnapped or deceptively recruited from throughout Asia. A majority were Korean, but other nationalities subjected include Chinese, Taiwanese, Dutch, Filipino and Indonesian.

They were "raped by between 10 to 100 soldiers a day at military rape camps, known as 'comfort stations,' " Ms. Lee writes in her statement. "Women were starved, beaten, tortured and killed. By some estimates only 25-30 percent survived the ordeal."

Human trafficking continues today as the second largest business after arms dealing, Ms. Lee writes, and her intent is to call attention to continuing violence against women as well as to expose this lurid past. Discussion of the subject is still considered "taboo and controversial" in Asia.

Ms. Lee, whose 10-foot-high transparent Buddha sitting on a lotus flower was installed in Point State Park during the summer's Three Rivers Arts Festival, has researched comfort women since 2007, traveling to seven Asian countries to interview survivors and a former Japanese soldier. Those interviews form the basis of a video documentary that will be screened in the gallery and includes interviewees speaking about their wartime experiences as well as about current hopes and dreams. It's difficult to listen to the women, many now in their 80s, tell of being pulled off the street as a teen or listening to their mothers screaming as they were led away.

The former soldier, Yasuji Kaneko, began speaking publicly about the comfort women system in the 1990s when he was 88 years old, with the hope that "we never repeat what we did in the war and that there will never be war again." He vividly describes the 10- to 15-minute encounters with the women when there was no time for a hug or a kiss. The women remained seated in a chair, sleeping or smoking, as soldier after soldier entered. "If they wiped their private parts with paper sheets every single time, the parts would get swollen. So they never did that."

"Comfort Women Wanted" has been exhibited at The Incheon Women Artists' Biennale in Korea (2009), and in Hong Kong; Bonn, Germany; Boston; and this year as public art in New York City. The Wood Street exhibition also includes images of former comfort stations in China and Indonesia, and posters with images of the young women alongside silhouettes of the women as they are now.

Duck proclamation

Pittsburgh City Council proclaimed Tuesday Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Day in the city in recognition of bringing the Rubber Duck to our fair city. More than 1 million people visited the duck during its three-week stay.

Arts Fest artist call

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is accepting visual and performing artist applications for the 55th annual Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, which will be held June 6-15. The open submission period will end Feb. 4. Applications and information: www.3riversartsfest.org/artistapps.

Free Carnegie evenings

Admission to Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History will be free from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 21 courtesy of board member Richie Battle.

Mendelson stance

"In our politically charged environment, it is time to take a stand for what we believe in" according to a programming release from Mendelson Gallery, 5874 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. The gallery is the first stop of "The Marriage Project: Faces of Equality," a traveling photographic exhibit of Pittsburgh-area same-sex couples. All are in long-term committed relationships and would like to marry one day in Pennsylvania or have their out-of-state marriages and civil unions recognized here.

Planned Parenthood of Pittsburgh will host a fundraising event from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the gallery, with board members present to discuss issues of significance.

A reception to benefit ACLU of Pennsylvania will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 14. Legal director Vic Walczak, plaintiffs in the ACLU's lawsuit and subjects from the photographs will discuss issues and share stories of love and commitment.

The gallery will also be open from noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16. Free; donations welcomed (412-361-8664).


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.

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