Songs For Women Living With War

Songs for Women Living with War
This is multi-layered project to develop a Global Memorial for Women and sexual violence. Encompassing historic and contemporary struggles the structure of this artwork is inspired by the WWll Comfort Women of the Philippines and takes the form of a “bahay” house, with sound, stories, information activated by an exhibition, performances and new technologies to make it a “living memorial” with the goal of finding temporary and permanent sites in civic spaces locally and globally.

Inspired by Galang’s forthcoming Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living with War, Poethig created a prototype public art work called Songs for Women Living with War. Galang’s book, a literary nonfiction account of Filipinas forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army in World War II, took 20 years to research and write. It will be published by Curbstone Press in the fall 2017.

Songs for Women Living With War / Bahay ni Lola
Wood, canvas, capiz, ceramic, photo, sound, 2016
This installation/prototype memorial and anti-war monument is an arrangement of three walls forming an open house structure with elements of the traditional architecture and materials of the Philippines. This “living memorial” that remembers women and the violence they suffer was originally inspired by writer M. Evelina Galang’s work with WWII Comfort Women, the Lolas. There are few monuments to women and war. Rooted in the history of the WWII Comfort Women but reaching across history in local and global contexts the concept of “Songs” for women came to light. Women have been passing down their stories in songs through the ages. Sexual violence against women knows no time or place or nationality- it is a phenomenon endemic to our culture of war, patriarchy, and violence. This “living memorial” seeks to create a platform of understanding that these crimes against humanity do not begin and end on the battlefield. The textile wall of the Bahay ni Lola /House of the Grandmothers is woven as a banig or mat, draped with stories and texts collected from multiples sources. The wood wall with the pierced abacus window holds an image of intimate belongings photographed by Kija Lucas and a sound element by composer Anne Perez who weaves multiple voices together to create a living sonic space. The cadence and emotion of the spoken words drive the pace, rhythm and emphasis in this composition mixing Lolas’ voices from the interviews with author M. Evelina Galang and the ongoing collection of “songs”. The voices include Claudia Bernardi, M.Evelina Galang, Lila Shahani, students at the Visual and Public Art Department (VPA), CSU,Monterey Bay and voices of South Korean, Indonesian and Chinese Comfort Women from interviews found on the internet.  “Lips of Lapis Lazuli” the collective sounding led by musician/composer Theresa Wong, performed at CSUMB in Spring 2016 flows throughout the composition altered and processed to echo visual elements of the woven wall, the carved tears, the clicking of the abacus, wind and rain sounds in the capiz and the marching sounds of war.  The quote by bell hooks is read by Johanna Poethig.  The prototype monument was designed and built under the direction of Johanna Poethig with the Visual and Public Art Department (VPA), CSU,Monterey Bay and continues to be developed for new exhibitions and public sites.


Songs for Women Living With War in Progress:
Stage I
Visual and Public Art Department (VPA), CSU,Monterey Bay: 
 The first presentation of this memorial in Spring 2016 included M. Evelina Galang presenting her work with the Lolas, artist Claudia Bernardi who works in the fields of art, human rights and social justice, Gwyn Kirk (Women for Genuine Security), Deborah Pembrook (Coalition to End Human Trafficking) and Lila Ramos Shahani, former Assistant Secretary head of communications of the Human Development and Poverty Cabinet Cluster of the Republic of the Philippines and Spokesperson against Human Trafficking.

Stage II
Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland: 
 This exhibit and series if performances and events included Lola Remedios Felias hand stitched quilt featured in a series of photos enlarged to depict the harrowing depiction of her capture at the age of 14 by the Japanese Military to become a ”Comfort Woman” to give sexual service to the army. This quilt was given to M. Evelina Galang to show to the world what happened to these young girls and women. Bing Danh’s  daguerreotypes series Memory of the My Lai Massacre are work that investigates his Vietnamese heritage and our collective memory of war, both in Viet Nam and Cambodia—work that, in his own words, deals with “mortality, memory, history, landscape, justice, evidence, and spirituality.”  The Wire photographs of the American soldiers who were released of their charges, in which their smiling faces contrast the daguerreotypes of death, rape, and destruction on the My Lai Village. When the atrocities surfaced it sent shock waves through the US Government and the already divided American public. Angelica Muro’s Cultura de Femicidio archival pigment prints, 2016 are an investigation into the Culture of Femicide–both the politics of exclusion and the culture of control. Violence against women is prolific in our society. Femicide is a similar concept to rape culture, but one that also applies to the killing of women. Latin America has the highest rate of Femicide in the world.  7 out of 10 countries with the highest female murder rate are in Latin America, and one of the major contributing factors of Femicide is the lack of punishment for offenders, which sends the message that violence against women is normal behavior. The photographs presented here are part of a larger series of appropriated media images of violence against women juxtaposed with images of women that are rising in protest to symbolize the voice and dignity of those who can no longer be heard.  Delfina Piretti’s Tabula Rasa installation is blank slate blackboard in the shape a female Buddha, water, roses and sea sponges that invites the viewer to participate, to make their marks or tell their stories knowing it is only temporary, soon to be erased and released into the ether of the world. In the thirty years of working with women healing from victimization and abuse she expresses through this sculpture the wisdom that come from the mind in the body. The whole world is created and birthed through women’s bodies. Dionicio Mendoza takes an ethno-botanist approach to art making, his most recent body of work, White Wilderness” offers a counter narrative to the view of “wilderness” as a pristine sanctuary, separate from human civilization. Embedded in many of his haunting images are spiders’ webs- symbols of danger and threat- as well elements associated with urban street life like fire-arms and car tires. Descriptions of “wilderness” often overlook the complex historical relationship between landscape and people of color. Mendoza’s “wilderness” are unsafe spaces, were historically, people of color have been murdered, kidnapped, hung and raped. Ascension by Eliza Barrios a site specific installation created for Song for Women Living With War with the text, “We are so used to seeing women as victims of war to be pitied rather than survivors of war to be respected”  from writer and journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, known for her work (fiction and non-fiction) about women around the world living and experiencing the challenges of war. The quote, adhered to the risers of the gallery steps, is visible only when you approach to ascend them. This placement is meant to evoke the strength of women transcending the damages of war. Jenifer K Wofford created  a suite of portrait prints of some of the longest-living “Lolas”, the Filipina elders who survived the trauma of their comfort-woman experiences in WWII, to honor their experiences and their endurance.  Kija Lucas photograph series Pillows brings the home into the gallery with  Pillow No. 13.  Here, the pillow, an object of personal comfort becomes grotesque with use, a shadow to its original purpose. Stripped of its cover, and transformed into a photograph, a distance is created that makes looking the only possibility. Walking through the exhibit viewers will encounter selected texts on the floor from Jadelynn Stahl’s performance Choreographies of Disclosure, a project that utilizes multidisciplinary performance to complicate existing social narratives surrounding the aftermath of sexual violence, how the traumatized body is perceived and how survivors’ experiences are interpreted.

Johanna Poethig’s Songs For Women Living With War Video  documents the beginning stages of creating the installation/ memorial at the Visual and Public Art department, CSU, Monterey Bay in Spring 2016 updated in 2017 to include the performances by Rhodessa Jones, Van Anh Vo, Evelie Sales Posch, Jadelynn Stahl with filmmaker Lydia Greer, WIGband with Johanna Poethig and Barbara Golden. The process included an interdisciplinary collaboration with the VPA Visiting Artists, Global Studies Social Justice Colloquium and HCOM Writer’s program. Guests invited to present are edited with excerpts from M. Evelina Galang’s interviews with the Lolas in the Philippines. The sound is edited from Theresa Wong’s collective vocal performance at CSUMB.


Hyperallergic:  Artists Help Break the Silence around the Abuse of Women in War   by Dorothy Santos

Art Practical: Teach and Talking about Art and Performance in Unpresidented Times   by Thea Quiray Tagle