During a week of tragedy, the Korean Students Association and the Coalition for Comfort Women Issues (CCW) once again invite the Cornell community to remember onto the tragedies of the past at a photo exhibition held at the Willard Straight Hall Art Gallery. The exhibition is open until tomorrow.

The exhibit, "Comfort Women: Suffering and Dignity in Asia during World War II," features the photos of Korean-American photographer Yunghi Kim and a copy of the first English-language book, Comfort Women Speak, that chronicles some women's experiences in their own words. Along with these, the presentation includes original artwork from surviving women.

This exhibit, which had already visited the campus in March 2001, follows organizers' plans to invite a comfort station survivor to speak at Cornell Nov. 5 at the Statler Auditorium.

Mark Hwang '02 is one of many organizers from the CCW who feel that learning about this issue now can help prevent injustice in the future.

"The issue of the Comfort Women is also a story filled with courage and dignity of extraordinary women who, albeit advanced in age, decided to come forth and demand for justice. These women truly deserve stage on our campus for what they're doing. They're doing it for our generation, so that we will never fall victim to another such tragedy," Hwang said.

Although these events occurred decades ago, it is only until now that the CCW is bringing these women's stories to universities, such as Cornell and Georgetown University, and public arenas across the country, among them the Philadelphia Free Library,

"Basically we want to inform people," said Erin Chu '03, of the Korean Student Association's political committee. "[We want] people to connect with the Comfort Women."

Chu hopes that through this exhibit, more members of the Cornell community can connect with the atrocities of the past and connect with the now much older victims.

To connect with the Comfort Women's story is to connect with a tragic history of sexual enslavement and secrecy during World War II.

Historically called the "Comfort Women," they are a group of approximately 200,000 women of Korean, Chinese and other Asian decent who were forced into sexual slavery at the hand of the Japanese Imperial Military from 1932 until the end of World War II.

They lived in "comfort stations" which lined East Asia. Many of these women were only teenage girls when the military undertook this then-legal practice, bringing women to camps where they were often raped and tortured.

Through this exhibit, the sponsor organizations stated that they do not want to blame Japan for its actions nor were they against any Japanese person now, however they want to honor the women who died at the hands of the Japanese and acknowledge to the world that this ordeal even occurred.

The Japanese government did not officially offer an apology or reparations to the Comfort Women until 1995.

"It is our intent to commemorate the lives of all 'comfort women' of World War II and express our respect for the dignity and honor for women who were murdered as sexual slaves and for those who survived sexual slavery during the war," said by the Coordinating Committee for the CCW in their letter to members of the Cornell community which was available to visitors at the exhibit.

Given the subject matter, visitor response ranged from "shock" to "anger" as they read and listened to the stories of the surviving women.

Monica Jeong '02, a student of Korean decent, found that she was angered upon learning the horrendous stories of the victims. She agreed that the focus of the exhibit is not to blame but to celebrate.

"It's sad to see, if you think about that part of history," Jeong said. "They don't even attempt to address it. It's a really big issue."

Jeong noted the apparent refusal of the Japanese government to acknowledge the issue as the topic is often absent in Japanese textbooks.

She also considered the exhibit a reminder of the pain that the women of her country had to endure.

"Those people [in the photos] looked like my own grandmother. I'm probably going to look like that [when I grow older]," she added.

The exhibit will travel to Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale University later this year.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins

November 22, 2015

ILR Students Protest Labor Cartoon Exhibit

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Student pushback to a number of political cartoons displayed in Ives Hall, and the alleged theft of one of the pieces, has prompted a discussion about freedom of speech and political discourse in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and around campus.

Gary Huck and Mike Konopacki, two of the leading labor cartoonists in the country, were invited to the ILR Labor Roundtable, hosted by the school on Nov. 13. The event is held annually to show students ways they can become professionally involved in the labor rights and social justice movements, and consistently features guest artists. 

As in previous years, the artists’ work was installed in a temporary exhibit on the first floor of Ives Hall, but this year some of the pieces made students uncomfortable, leading some to request their removal, according to Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner, industrial and labor relations.


Cartoons displayed in Ives Hall as part of an exhibit has drawn criticism from students. The above cartoon features the GOP elephant with its trunk up a woman’s skirt. (Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer)

Students contacted student services to express their discomfort, particularly with two of the pieces: one featuring the GOP elephant with its trunk up a woman’s skirt and another with a swastika superimposed on the confederate flag, according to Bronfenbrenner.

“We’ve invited people who’ve been much more provocative than the two we invited this time,” Bronfenbrenner said, “but I think the times have changed so that people on the right are emboldened, because of perhaps by the Tea Party or others.” She added that “there’s a sense that the First Amendment doesn’t apply.”

Initially, staff responded that the the offensive pieces would be taken down, but ILR faculty stepped in to defend the protection of first amendment rights, according to Bronfenbrenner.

Kevin Hallock, dean of the ILR school, later issued a statement explaining the decision to leave the exhibit intact.

“Art can sometimes shock and be controversial, and the dialogue created can be important, especially in an institution like ours where the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental,” he said.

Likewise, some ILR students defended the associations drawn by the cartoons, saying they contribute to discussions of racism and sexism that are pertinent to the labor movement.

“The swastika is a symbol of hate, and it draws really powerful parallels to white supremacist hatred in the south and the ways in which that hatred has been mobilized using the confederate flag,” said Allison Considine ’17, one of the student organizers of the event.

In the past month, racial tensions and protests have erupted on a number of campuses around the country. Events at the University of Missouri have captured headlines, including stories of students using the swastika as a symbol of racial intimidation.

“I presumed the students at Cornell would be aware of these events since they have to do with the campus life of other students around the country and would be able to understand that I was trying to speak to current events as they were happening,” Huck said. “Cartoons are pretty much of the moment, so if you don’t know what’s going on in the world around you you’re going to not understand a lot of cartoons, or you’re going to misunderstand a lot of cartoons.”

As of Friday morning, the confederate flag work was missing from the exhibit.

“I allowed the University to display my work and it was treated with pronounced disrespect,” Huck responded.

Konopacki also expressed his “dismay” that the exhibit proved so controversial.

“I was very surprised that a school with such an esteemed reputation would be so squeamish about political speech,” he said.

At the heart of the artists’ frustration was that rather than engaging with the subject matter, students opted to shut down the conversation.

“The person who took the cartoon was not without an avenue of dissent, but they chose to end the conversation by removing the cartoon,” Huck said. “Being offended is not the worst thing to happen to you. Being offended is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of a conversation.”

The pair plans on including their experience with political discomfort on Cornell’s campus in future cartoons and will reflect on it in their discourse with other audiences.

“That is exactly the way to have this conversation; lots of voices weighing in and everyone gets their voices heard,” Huck said. “That’s how freedom of speech works, and that is a great thing. That is the single greatest thing about this nation — that is what makes America America.”