Photographer Cha Jin hyun was one of the recipients of Sangsangmadang Art Center's 2008 photography fellowship. For his exhibition project he chose to look at a little known aspect of Korean history - the plight of Korean women who were abducted by the Japanese military during WWII and imprisoned in camps to be used as sex slaves for the soldiers, and referred to euphemistically as "comfort women". To this day the Japanese government still refuses to acknowledge the existence of the war-time sex camps or the kidnapping and sexual slavery of Korean women.
At the time Cha commenced his photographic project in 2008 there were 108 known former 'comfort women' living in Korea, all aged their 80s and 90s. Nowadays these women are respectfully termed 'halmoni' (Korean term for grandmother), and Cha travelled around Korea to meet and photograph all of these survivors, hence the title ' Portraits of 108'. He chose the format of black and white formal portraiture against a black backdrop to best capture the essential story of these women. Cha said he felt the urgent need to document the existence of these women and to reveal their tragic story more widely to the Korean public. He remarked that even in the time it took him to finish the project quite a few of the old women passed away, and only about 90% of the 108 women he photographed remain alive now.
A selection of these moving portraits of the 'halmoni' is on display at the SangsangMadang gallery, 3F until March 6. Entry is free. Open daily from 12 noon to 11pm. A book of the complete series of 108 portraits by Cha Jin Hyun is also on sale at the gallery.
More information about the history of the "comfort women" in Korea is available from the website: http://www.nanum.org
You can also visit the 'House of Sharing' east of Seoul where some of the halmoni live together in a supportive environment, alongside an information center and museum that includes paintings made by the halmoni and videos of their testimonies. There is a special guided tour for English-speaking visitors once a month led by volunteer interpreters.
Please see the 'House of Sharing' website for more information: www.houseofsharing.org
Exhibition Venue: Gallery Sangsang madang, 3F, Sangsang madang Cultural Center, Hongdae.
Address: Seogyo-dong 363-19, Mapo-gu, Seoul.
For more information see the website (Korean only):
By bus: Please call the Tourist Information Center on 1330 for bus information.
The closest subway station is Hapjeong station, Line 2, Line 6, exit 3. Either take a taxi for the minimum fare or walk down the main road towards Sinchon for 150 meters and turn right at the crossroads at the Bobo Hotel. Cross the road and keep walking about 200 meters until you see the unusual Sangsang madang Cultural center building on your left.