Visualizing Contested Memories of Wars and Desire for Peace in East Asia

Title: 1323 | Visualizing Contested Memories of Wars and Desire for Peace in East Asia
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Tomoe Otsuki, University of California, Berkeley, United States (organizer, presenter)
Hong Kal, York University, Canada (presenter)
Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon, University of Alberta, Canada (presenter)
Mina Kim, The University of Alabama, United States (presenter)
Soo-im Lee, Ryukoku University, Japan (presenter)
Brian Bergstrom, McGill University, Canada (chair, discussant)


Our panel centres on the affective images of the victims of wars in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. We will explore the questions of how these visual images represent and reflect war, what emotions they evoke, and how they create a connection between the viewer and the victims. On the one hand, we believe it is possible for visual images to compel the viewer to imagine the unimaginable suffering of the victims and form a community of memory. On the other hand, we are critical of the affective work such images generate to invoke a “universal community,” obscuring the peculiarities of each event and erasing the alterity of individual victims. Our panel points to this tension between the ethical possibility and the political exploitation of affective images of the victims of war, while considering the issue of intergenerational remembrance of cultural trauma.
Kal discusses how Korean artists seek to bear witness in the form of paintings to past traumas of the mass killing of civilians during the Korean War; Kwon delves into the issue of remembrance and apology by examining the statue symbolic of South Korea’s apology for the atrocities suffered by Vietnamese victims at the hands of Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War; Otsuki examines the political implications of centring the photographs of child victims in the representation of Japanese atomic bomb victimhood at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum; Kim demonstrates new possibilities of visualizing traumatic memory and interaction between the images and the viewer through multimedia works of art; and Lee explores the notion of peace in East Asia.

Panel Abstracts:
Exhibiting No History: Children and the Infantilization of Ground Zero at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
In April 2019, the newly renovated Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (HPMM) was re-opened. One of the most remarkable features of the new permanent exhibition is that it centres child victims as witnesses to atomic destruction. The museum displays a number of photographs of young children who perished in the atomic bombing after these photographs were taken. It also exhibits artefacts left by the children, such as a charred tricycle, inviting the viewers to witness what happened to them on August 6, 1945 from the perspective of a naïve, innocent child whose figure transcends national and ethnic identities to embody vulnerability and universality. This presentation will examine the aesthetic, affective, and political implications of mobilizing the images of children in the representation of atomic victimhood at the HPMM. It will also inquire into what accounts for the absence of the figures of male adults in this mise-en-scène, and why the role of the United States is never mentioned in the narratives of atomic victimhood. These omissions help the museum represent the atomic bombing as if it fell from the sky and annihilated a city of “loving children.” I would argue that the renewed HPMM infantilizes war memory and Hiroshima to depoliticize and dehistoricize the atomic bombing in order to shield Hiroshima from a political dispute over how the Japanese ought to remember the Asia-Pacific War while continuously promoting the master narrative of the “reconciliation” and “friendship” between the U.S. and Japan.

Visual Images of Wrongful Deaths in South Korea
Studies on the use of visual materials to embody past injustices have raised questions about the ability of visual images to represent traumatic events that are seemingly unspeakable and unimaginable. Despite some doubts, a plethora of visual artworks has emerged to give expression to horrific events, serve as virtual access to knowledge of traumatic pasts, and become an integral means by which to remember and understand historical injustices. In contemporary South Korea, the visually mediated representation of historical injustice is ever urgent, especially as victims could not survive to tell their stories and the memories of surviving witnesses are disappearing, while perpetrators and responsible institutions are still denying that their misdeeds are war crimes. Drawing on some insights on visual witnessing, postmemory, and affect, my presentation will discuss visual images of civilian killings by the state authorities during the Korean War (1950-53) and the dictator regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. It will examine how visual images represent violent pasts from personal, familial, communal, and collective memories, and how they portray wrongful deaths in critical, imaginative, and affective modes of expression. It will further discuss how visual artists participate in the socially engaged act of ethical witnessing by means of images.

Contested Memories, Precarious Apology: The Vietnam War in Contemporary South Korean Art
The collective memory of the Vietnam War in South Korea is contested by the official memory, constructed by the military regime, and the counter-memory, generated by activists calling for Korea’s apology to Vietnam over the atrocities by Korean soldiers. This paper examines two art projects by Korean artists created in this context with two keywords: memory and apology. Im Heung-soon’s exhibition (2008/2009) and the single-channel video Reborn II (2018) present the memories of South Korean veterans and Vietnamese rape victims. Kim Seokyung and Kim Eunsung’s statue Vietnam Pieta (2015–2016) was installed in Vietnam and Korea as a gesture of apology for the Vietnamese women and children who were raped or murdered at the hands of Korean soldiers. Drawing on the studies of memory and apology, this presentation examines how these art projects represent the contested memories of the Vietnam War in Korea and the conditional apology suggested in Korean activism, relating them to the redress movements of historical justice for wartime atrocities in a transnational context.

Quantum Deformation of Reality: A New Perspective and Visualization of Traumatic Disasters in Contemporary Art
As the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution approaches, those who are living today are vaguely predicting that immeasurable changes will happen to their lives, but at the same time, people were continually unable to escape from traumatic natural/human-made/bureaucratic disasters throughout history. This research attempts to explore how contemporary artists try to interpret various shocking incidents, focusing on a Korean multimedia artist, Jung Yeondoo (b. 1969). While theorizing a newly proposed term, “quantum deformation of reality” that is partially borrowed from the well-known mathematical and physical term, quantum deformation, this research argues how contemporary art and visual culture embraces the coexistence of reality and virtuality and how Jung Yeondoo uses this theme when he deals with traumatic experiences, in particular, nuclear atomic bomb on Japan and Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Instead of visualizing such disasters horrendously, crucially or violently, he shows the connection between people and evokes greater empathy. This study proposes that contemporary visual culture is a place of empathetic communication, provides thoughtful interaction with people, and lets viewers think. It also makes possible by offering not only the new insight and perspective but the appropriate juxtaposition of reality and illusion, the past and present, the present and future, private and public sectors, and people and society.

Prospects of Achieving Ahn Jung-geun's Vision of Peace and Stability in East Asia
This presentation will discuss the historical and pedagogical significance of Korean independence activist Ahn Jung-geun’s vision of peace in Northeast Asia in the contemporary period. In particular, I will focus on the meaning of the four pieces of calligraphic work Ahn handed to a Japanese prison chaplain to express his dream and desire for peace in Northeast Asia. On October 26, 1909, Ahn assassinated Ito Hirobumi, former Premier of Japan and Resident-General of Korea. Ahn was sentenced to death and imprisoned in Ryujun prison in Manchuria, where he managed to develop a mutual trust between himself and Japanese prison guards. While in prison, Ahn also wrote an essay titled “On Peace in East Asia,” in which he called for Korea, China, and Japan to collaborate and unite toward a common goal of prosperity. Tsuda Kaijyun, a Japanese Buddhist, was appointed as a prison chaplain for Ahn. Before his execution, Ahn gave Tsuda four pieces of calligraphic work that he drew as a symbol of friendship between Korea and Japan. Ahn drew these with his left hand, which was missing the last joint of the ring finger as he had cut it off with his comrades in 1909 as a pledge to assassinate Ito. Tsuda secretly kept these works of art at his temple, and after his death, Tsuda’s family donated Ahn’s calligraphic works to Ryukoku University in Japan, hoping that the calligraphy would be utilized as an educational resource for envisioning peace and stability in Northeast Asia

This panel is on Thursday - Session 02 - Room 8

Go to Room 8