Embodied Histories: Interview with Yoshiko Shimada
By Ophelia Lai
Born in Tokyo in 1959, Yoshiko Shimada has made a career of asking uncomfortable questions about Japan’s history, breaking barriers in the early 1990s when she produced photographic works and installations about “comfort women”: a euphemism for the hundreds of thousands of women from Japan, Korea, China, and beyond who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. She tackled the notion of historical erasure with her performance Becoming a Statue of a Japanese Comfort Woman (2012– ), taping her mouth and stationing herself next to global monuments of these victims and outside Japanese embassies worldwide to signify the silencing of this ugly chapter. When the Aichi Triennale’s display “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” was shut down following threats and public outcry, primarily targeting Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung's sculpture of a comfort woman, Statue of Peace (2011), she joined protests against the show’s closure. ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor Ophelia Lai caught up with Shimada in Hong Kong—where she was researching radical artistic communities and forms of protest as part of an Asian Cultual Council-supported residency at Asia Art Archive (AAA)—to discuss censorship in Japan, transnational feminism, and art’s ability to respond to diffcult truths.