A South Korean photographer explains his ordeal in holding an exhibition in Japan that documents ageing ‘Comfort Women’, writes Lee Yoo Eun.
Ahn Se-Hong, a South Korean photographer was harassed leading up to and during his exhibition in Japan, where he displayed pictures of ageing “Comfort Women“, a term used for Korean women that were drafted as sex slaves by the Japanese during the World War II. Ahn disclosed that he is facing threats from Japanese right-wing groups, who held protests against the photo exhibition.
On his Facebook page [ko] photographer Ahn Se-Hong (ahnsehong) revealed that during his exhibition, he was closely watched, placed under surveillance and his visitors were thoroughly searched by security hired by Nikon, the Japanese camera maker, who also owned the building where the exhibit was on display.
Nikon first refused to sponsor the location and abruptly cancelled the event a month ago. However, Nikon eventually succumbed to the Tokyo District Court order to sponsor the location. News media speculated Nikon’s abrupt cancelling of the exhibit was an attempt to fend off the controversy and pressure from conservative groups.
The South Korean online space erupted with rage and countless users accused Japanese extremist right-wing groups of not only refusing to admit their war crimes, but attempting to sabotage the art exhibition.
Ahn’s show Layer by Layer: Korean Women Left Behind in China who were Comfort Women of the Japanese Military, shows faces of innocent victims who were dragged into inexplicably horrid situations in their teens or early twenties, now wrinkled and crippled. During Japanese colonisation, approximately 50,000 to 200,000 Korean women were kidnapped and forced to leave their homes to become military sex slaves. Less than 70% of these women managed to return home.
Ahn wrote [ko] on his Facebook page on June 26, 2012 with the photo above. The post has been shared for over 900 times:
오늘 사진설치를 하기 위해 기쁜 마음으로 니콘살롱에 왔으나. 도착해서 들어가 보니 실상을 달랐습니다. 니콘은 전시장을 빌려주는것 외에 아무것도 안한다고 했지만,외부 언론의 출입 통제및 개인이 사진 찍는 것 조차 못하게 하고 있으며, 심지어는 니콘측 변호사 3명이 저에게 붙어 일거수 일투족을 감시하며, 대화를 엿듣가하면 촬영을 하고 있습니다. 보러올 관객들을 위해 참고 있지만, 일제시대가 따로 없습니다. 니콘은 전시기간 내내 변호사를 상주 시켜 저를 감시하고 꼬투리를 잡아 전시를 중단시킬 계획입니다.
“I arrived at the Nikon exhibit salon today happy, to prepare for the photo exhibit, but as I entered the place, I realized this is not the picture I had in my mind. Nikon claimed that they will be merely renting out their space without doing anything, but no, they’ve done far more than that: They blocked media’s entrance and forbid media coverage and even individual’s from taking photos. Furthermore, Nikon dispatched three lawyers who closely followed and watched me. These lawyers kept overhearing my conversations and recorded me. I’ve suppressed (my anger) just for my visitors. But I felt as if I were living under the past Japanese Imperialist rule. The reason Nikon let their lawyers stay with me throughout the entire exhibition was to find an excuse to halt my exhibition.”
A regular visitor (supposedly Japanese National) being searched by security hired by Nikon upon entering the photo exhibit. Image posted on Ahn’s Facebook. Used with Permission.
He added this comment [ko] with the photo above.
이건 분명 인권 침해입니다. 오시는 모든분께 죄송할 따름입니다.
“This is a clear violation of human rights. I am so sorry for everyone who came to see my exhibit.”
There were small rallies of right-wing groups held in front of the exhibit. Ahn wrote he was expecting such pressure from the start. Last week, Ahn wrote [ko]:
다음주부터 전시에 들어갑니다. 지금 일본에서는 우익들의 강한 반발이 시작 되었습니다. 조심하라는 등 지난번보다 협박의 수위가 높아지고 있습니다.
“I will be starting the photo exhibit from next week. Now in Japan, right-wing groups’ strong attacks have already started. Someone threatened me and said/wrote I should take care of myself and the severity of their threat has moved up a notch.”
건물 입구와 니콘의 홈페에지에는 할머니의 사진전에 관한 정보가 하나도 없습니다. 니콘 살롱 문을 을 여는 순간 니콘 경비원들은 관람자들의 가방을 열어 확인하고, 금속탐지기로 몸을 검사합니다. 오전중에는 여러 우익 단체들이 데모를 하고 전시장으로 찾아와 소란을 피우며 저에게 항의 서한을 전달 하여 했으나 실패하자, 더욱 거세게 소란을 피웁니다. 많은 언론매체가 취재를 위해 왔지만, 니콘의 건물전체 에서의 취재불가라는 이유로 기자와의 대화조차 가로막고 있습니다.결국엔 니콘의 시선을 피해 갤러리 건물을 벗어나는 순간에도 니콘관계자 둘은 건물밖까지 쫒아나와 감시하였습니더. […] 관람객 몇분이 할머니에게 꽃을 가져다 놓았지만, 니콘은 그것 마져 하지 못하게 저지하였고, 좋은일에 쓰라며 주는 기부금도 문제가 된다며 니콘의 변호사가 보관하고 있습니다. – 모든것이 상식밖의 일이고 저의 분노 또한 한계에 다다르는 순간이었습니다.
“I could not find any information about the exhibit at the building entrance nor on the Nikon website. When I opened the door to the Nikon salon exhibit, security came to me and they started opening our bags and we were searched with a metal detector. In the morning, several right-wing groups held protests and created commotion. When they tried to hand me a complaint pamphlet but failed, they stirred up even more commotion. Many news outlets came to cover the story, but Nikon blocked us from even having a conversation with journalists, claiming it is forbidden to cover news inside the building. When I fled from the building to escape the eyes of securities, two Nikon personnel followed us outside the building and watched us. Several people endowed flowers to those old ladies [note: referring to comfort women, not clear whether it was given to the women or endowed in front of the photo of the ladies]. But Nikon blocked people from giving flowers. Some donations were made by people – Nikon’s lawyers are keeping that, saying those are problematic. Everything was so irrational and pushed me to the verge of anger.”
But there was support from [ko] Japanese citizens:
오늘 셀 수 없을 정도의 많은 분들이 다녀 가셨습니다. […] 저에게 많은 응원을 하시고, 할머니들을 위로하는 일본분들이 많았습니다. 혼란과 뿌듯함이 함께한 하루였습니다. 내일도 우익들의 집회가 예정되어 있습니다. 또 어떠한 난동을 피울지, 니콘의 감시는 어디까지 이어질지, 이 모든것이 할머니를 응원하는 이들을 이길 수 없습니다.
“Countless people visited the exhibit. Some of them showed support for me and many Japanese people showed condolences to these old ladies. I feel both confused and rewarded throughout today. However, another right-wing protest is planned tomorrow. I don’t know how much commotion they will stir up and how long Nikon’s surveillance will continue, but neither of these tactics can beat the people supporting these old ladies.”
This is not the first time extremist Japanese right-wing groups have enraged Koreans, Chinese and other Asians, who suffered prior and during the World War II, when Japan colonised Korea and occupied parts of China. On June 21, this Youtube video of some of right-wing members driving a stake into the statue of Comfort Women sparked controversy. They referred to the women as “prostitutes”.
These groups are also gathering signatures for a petition [ko] to remove a monument commemorating Comfort Women in the United States, fueling an old animosity between Japan and South Korea once again.