Opposite the Japanese embassy in downtown Seoul stands a bronze statue of a young girl. Since its erection in 2011, it has become a site of fierce symbolic battles among various parties. The objectives of this article are threefold. First, it offers an art historical account of the monument. Although it has been widely covered by numerous media, few serious studies on the monument as a work of art have been undertaken, and this article seeks to fill the gap. Second, it aims to advance an interpretation of the statue as a paradigmatic embodiment of intersubjective gaze that unsettles conventional portrayals of comfort women as erotic prostitutes. The image of comfort women as highly sexualized bodies has taken deep root in postwar Japanese popular culture, but the statue challenges this stereotyping and presents instead the pristine image of comfort women as innocent teenage victims of ruthless Japanese militarism. Third, it revisits the obvious: the statue in essence is a representation, but the representation itself is in turmoil. As people summon their own collection of desires when gazing at the statue, their encounters with it constantly question its representational stability.
The Battle of Representations: Gazing at the Peace Monument or Comfort Women Statue
Dongho Chun is an associate professor in the Department of Art History at Ewha Womans University in South Korea. He is a specialist in the history of eighteenth-century British art, and his recent research interests have expanded to include artistic interactions between East Asia and Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.
Dongho Chun; The Battle of Representations: Gazing at the Peace Monument or Comfort Women Statue. positions 1 May 2020; 28 (2): 363–387. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8112482
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