During the Second World War (1932-1945), hundreds of thousands of Asian women became “Comfort Women,” which is a euphemism used to describe women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. These women were forcefully taken from their countries and conscripted into many Asian countries to be imprisoned at military comfort stations where they were physically disgraced and emotionally mortified. Even after given freedom, many of them committed suicide or remained in foreign countries instead of returning home because of the humiliation. To this day, these victimized women live with unbearable memories and physical scars, hidden from the world and unwilling to openly disclose their past.
One of many discouragements I faced during the progress of this project was that many are still unaware of the past truth despite the survivors’ bold, painful proclamation. Furthermore, comfort stations spread out in numerous locations are now being destroyed or renovated, unable to trace even a hint of the history. Thus, the second journey on this comfort women project had to involve retrieving what was left of the pieces by visiting the sites myself.
During the war, majority of the comfort stations were situated in nations that were either in battle with the Japanese or controlled by them. Most of them are Asian countries and China is known to have held the highest numbers. About 140 sites are confirmed as being used as comfort stations in Shanghai, which is considered to be the city that held the most within China. “HaiNingLu No. 449” is one of the few buildings standing to this day, but many others are already demolished or will be very soon. It was beyond immeasurable to witness the tragedy of a chunk of bloodshed history disappear as if it never happened.
Jungeun Lee was born and raised in South Korea. She studied architecture at Hoseo University in Korea and received a MFA in Photography from University of North Texas. During her graduate years, Jungeun discovered a piece of Korean history unfamiliar to many. This finding led to further research and production of Silenced Suffering: The Comfort Women Project. In 2010, she held her MFA exhibition at 500X Gallery in Dallas. Jungeun was the first place recipient of the 2010 PhotoNOLA Review Prize. Her work is showing at the Holocaust Resource Center & Archives in New York. She currently lives and works in Dallas, Texas.
Jungeun Lee was a CPW Artist-in-Residence in 2013.