A South Korean photographer whose past exhibition was called off amid protests will showcase portraits of wartime “comfort women” from across Asia at a Tokyo gallery from Sept. 4.
Ahn Se-hong’s newest exhibition, titled “Juju: Inerasable vestige,” will feature around 70 pictures of 46 former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex in front-line brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.
Since 1996, the Nagoya-based Ahn, 44, has photographed about 60 former comfort women from South Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor.
In 2012, the Nikon Salon gallery in Tokyo, a prestigious venue for photographers, canceled Ahn’s comfort women exhibition amid numerous protests and threats by those who accused him of falsifying history.
The Tokyo District Court ordered the exhibition to proceed, and it was held with metal detectors at the entrance. Ahn said he was forbidden to freely talk to visitors at the venue and from displaying titles and captions for his pictures.
In an ongoing civil suit at the Tokyo District Court, the photographer is demanding compensation from Nikon Corp., the operator of the gallery, and others involved, for their decision to call off the exhibition.
“I hope it will never happen again for a photo exhibition to be canceled just because the theme touches upon a specific social issue,” Ahn said.
The photographer started interviewing and photographing former Korean comfort women at the House of Sharing nursing home for such women in South Korea in 1996.
He started taking photos of former comfort women in China in 2001 and made trips to the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor to meet with surviving women in 2013 and 2014.
In his upcoming exhibition, the subjects include a Chinese woman from Shanxi province in her 90s who said she was taken away by Japanese soldiers in 1941. She was pregnant at the time and suffered a miscarriage.
She told Ahn that she was then forced into service as a comfort woman and gave birth to a child of a Japanese soldier. As she was convinced that the child would be loathed and discriminated against in her village, she abandoned the infant in the mountains.
An East Timorese woman in her mid-80s said she was taken away from her home to become a comfort woman in 1942 when she was in her early teens. Her arm still bears the tattoo of a name of a Japanese woman.
She said she was forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers for three years, as people managing her brothel threatened to kill her family members if she fled.
“Women who were forced into service as comfort women have never truly overcome the pain they suffered 70 years ago,” Ahn said.
The title of the exhibition, “Juju,” which translates as “thick layers,” is meant to express the agony of these women, symbolized by their thick wrinkles, the photographer said.
“Adding to the tragedy is the burden they have shouldered during the postwar period as they have been harshly discriminated against in their communities,” Ahn said.
The photo exhibition will run through Sept. 13 at Session House gallery in Shinjuku Ward. Admission is free. For more information, call the event organizer at 080-6952-7849.