“Women of comfort” project exhibited at the gallery 1100 Florence

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Content Warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.

A collection of works on survivors of sexual trauma is on display at the 1100 Florence Gallery in Evanston until October 27.

“Comfort women” is the euphemism used by the Japanese military to designate women forced into sexual servitude in “comfort centers” or brothels, for soldiers. The Comfort Women project, created by international artist and Evanston resident Rose Camastro-Pritchett, depicts the story of these women during WWII in Japan and connects it to contemporary survivors of sexual violence.

“I wanted a platform for the survivors, not the victims. It’s really important to call them survivors, ”said Camastro-Pritchett. “And I wanted to show women strong survivors.”

In composing the pieces, Camastro-Pritchett thought about how to engage audiences without horrifying them.

“Sometimes if things are so horrible, you have to get away from it. Otherwise it can be overwhelming, ”Camastro-Pritchett said. “But there are things that need to be said.”

Camastro-Prichett has mounted the exhibit for the past eight years, starting in 2013 when she participated in Menlo College’s “85 Years, 85 Artists” project. The college commissioned 85 artists to create art on the basis of an assigned year, and Camastro-Pritchett’s time as artist in residence at Chinese Jiujiang University made her focus on 1940s China. During her research, she discovered that the Japanese military had set up comfort centers all over the country which operated until the end of World War II, resulting in led to stories of comfort women.

Camastro-Pritchett said she approached the work conceptually. She sewed and embroidered a quilt with handmade paper depicting women’s dresses. The quilt hints at comfort, the hand sewing and embroidery evokes women’s work, and the dresses represent a garment covering horror, according to its website.

After completing this piece for “85 Years, 85 Artists,” Camastro-Pritchett expanded his research on Comfort Women. As she was invited to participate in other exhibitions, she continued to do pieces about Comfort Women in the same medium.

“Then when I got all of that, I thought, ‘Okay, I have a story here.’ And that’s when I started writing the text, ”Camastro-Pritchett said.

She wanted to exhibit the project at 1100 Florence because of Evanston’s strong sense of social justice and the gallery’s visibility on the street, she said.

1100 Florence curator and founder Lisa Degliantoni says she thinks the gallery is well suited for the heavy subject. People can look from the outside without entering, and if they enter, the space is small and welcoming, Degliantoni said.

“I think Rose does an exquisite job of making it very beautiful and intimate so that you can step away from this exhibit and be ready to find out more,” Degliantoni said.

The 1100 Florence exhibition also includes the interactive installation ‘Breaking the Silence: Message Board’, where clients can submit comments or feelings about sexual violence in person or via a QR code.

The gallery displays the messages in the window for passers-by to read, highlighting the similarities between the statements of comfort women survivors and current survivors of sexual violence. Degliantoni said it allows people to share their story privately, but publicly.

The bulletin board began at Menlo College as a collaboration between Camastro-Pritchett and his students. Camastro-Pritchett created another bulletin board for the Awakenings Art Gallery in Chicago with students from the University of Chicago when Awakenings organized the “Embodying Justice” exhibition on Comfort Women.

With two assistants, Camastro-Pritchett then copied each message by hand to post it on the bulletin board corresponding to 1100 Florence. The two forums are connected via an interactive platform on the Awakenings website.

On October 10, 1100, Florence also hosted a panel “Making Art About Horrific Subjects” in which Camastro-Pritchett participated as a speaker. The panel also included Sung Sohn, co-founder and executive director of the Education for Social Justice Foundation, and Jeri Frederickson, poet and creative director of Awakenings.

Sohn told The Daily that she discussed raising public awareness of Japan’s military sex service system. She said she also made efforts in San Francisco to preserve the history of Comfort Women.

“We are all doing this to focus on addressing sexual violence, and Rose and I rely on the Comfort Women story to communicate the need to do this,” Sohn said. “I’m just trying to help (the survivors) amplify and make their voices heard, and I think Rose’s works really helped clarify that communication.”

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