False Comfort

October 14, 2009

This fall, alumnus Steve Cavallo (BFA 1979 Illustration) traveled to South Korea as part of an artistic journey through the history of war and its tragic consequences. While working on his Playing Army series—in which he creates watercolor paintings of toy soldiers to depict scenes of violence and heartbreak caused by armed conflict—Cavallo learned about the WWII-era “Comfort Women.” “These were girls between 10 and 20 years old, abducted by the Japanese army during WWII,” he says. “Approximately 200,000 women were put in ‘Comfort Stations,’ where they were forced to serve 30 – 40 men a day.” He read an account of this systemic forced prostitution in a book called Silence Broken by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson (Mid-Prairie Books, 1999), and was moved to make contact with the few living survivors, many of whom live together in the House of Sharing, a site in Korea that serves as both a residence and museum of the history of sexual slavery.

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After hosting a benefit for the House of Sharing at the Palisades Park Library in New Jersey, Cavallo went to the women’s home in September, presented them with the funds he’d raised, and began adding paintings about the Comfort Women to the Playing Army series. “The way that children play with action figures, the way kids see war, life and death is so casual—I killed you but you can be alive again,” says Cavallo. “These women’s lives were destroyed forever, and there was no restarting. They didn’t get to play over again.”

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To view the complete set of Playing Army paintings, visit Cavallo’s Web site; to learn more about the Comfort Women, visit houseofsharing.org.

Images: Steve Cavallo, (top) Comfort Woman Action Figure—Comes Complete with 50 Japanese Soldiers, 2009; (bottom) Comfort Woman Nightmare Set, 2009.

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