|A computer simulation image of the new "comfort woman" statues that will be set up this week next to Ahn Jung Geun Memorial Hall and Namsan Public Library on the slope of Mount Nam. / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government|
By Lee Suh-yoon
A new statue commemorating "comfort women" ― young victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery ― will be unveiled on the slope of Mountain Nam, Wednesday, Seoul Metropolitan Government and civic groups said, Monday.
The unveiling ceremony will be held at 3 p.m., which is a national memorial day commemorating the first public testimony of Japan's wartime sex slavery by Kim Hak-sun in 1991.
In a computer illustration revealed to the public on Monday, the new monument is cast in bronze and involves four life-size figures. With firm and defiant expressions, three young women from Korea, China and the Philippines stand hand-in-hand in an outward-facing circle. A gap is left open in the ring for a fourth person to step in and join hands with them. A few steps away, a statue of the late Kim Hak-sun, the activist who gave the first public testimony of Japan's wartime sex slavery, watches them silently.
The statues ― modeled after the ones set up in San Francisco ― will be located in a small space next to Namsan Public Library and Ahn Jung Geun Memorial Hall, on the northwestern slope of the mountain. The one in San Francisco, called "Comfort Women: Column of Strength," greatly angered the Japanese government when it was set up in 2017, prompting the city of Osaka to sever a 60-year-old sister-city tie with San Francisco a year later.
The sister statue to be unveiled in Seoul on Wednesday was funded and donated by the Korean American community in San Francisco through the Jin Duck & Kyung Sik Kim Foundation. The one in San Francisco puts the three young women on a higher pedestal and does not leave an empty space for visitor interaction. Both sets are created by the American sculptor Steven Whyte and depict spatial and temporal solidarity for the "comfort women" cause.
"We hope the link created between San Francisco and Seoul's Mount Nam through this memorial statue will not only help remember painful colonial history but also provide a site of solidarity for citizens around the globe who suffered or suffer from imperialism," Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press statement.
A day prior to the statue's unveiling on Wednesday, City Hall will host an international symposium on how the testimonies by victims of Japan's military sex slavery can be best recorded and commemorated.
An estimated 200,000 women were sent to Japanese military brothels between 1932 and 1945. The Japanese government also recognized in 1993 that its military forced women into the front line brothels. It later changed its stance, saying there was not enough evidence to prove what happened at the euphemistically coined "comfort stations" was "involuntary" sex work, Historians and survivors, however, firmly maintain Japan coerced and deceived women into sexual servitude at these wartime stations.