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Student-curated exhibit urges people to remember Filipino comfort women

With decades having gone by since the end of World War II, many of the women and girls who were abused as wartime "comfort women" have already passed away. But even though they have gone, an exhibit at the Rizal Library Special Collections Building in Ateneo de Manila University, wants their memory to live on.

"In the Spaces We Mend: Inheriting the Unfinished Narrative of the Filipino Comfort Women" opened on March 16 after a six-month-long preparation.

The exhibit features numerous artworks in different forms of media, from animated films to documentaries, photographs, an actual scale model of a crime site, and preserved letters from the women themselves—all depicting their journey, their suffering, and their memory, so as to not let anyone forget.

Most of the artists—including Yuri Tan, Kloii Ronquillo, Che Tagyamon, Richard Dy, Donelle Agudo, and Summer Dagal—created their artwork back when they were still university students. 

The curator, Celline Mercado, is herself a senior at the Ateneo de Manila University.

"The point of the exhibit is to show [that] we can educate students about it, or to remember, kasi kung wala na 'yung mga lolas, e di maalala man lang natin," she said.

Even handwritten drawings, letters, clothing and photographs of the first ever Filipina who made public that she was a comfort woman, Maria Rosa Henson, are on display in the exhibit.

Remedios Felias, another former comfort woman, has handwritten drawings of her journey showcased as well.

There were an estimated 1,000 Filipino comfort women, Mercado said. "In the Philippines, the comfort stations were all over the islands talaga. In Iloilo alone, there was an estimate of 17 comfort stations."

Artist Tan, whose "One Thousand Origami Dresses" is part of the exhibit, said that she only learned about comfort women in grade school from her teachers. There was no mention of them in the textbooks given to students.

Mercado said that when when she was studying abroad, she learned in a class on modern Japanese art that the Japanese transmit their memories to the next generation to instill in them the ethos of pacifism. She then started to wonder why there is no such passing on of the same idea in the Philippines.

"Bakit sa Philippines wala? So parang very dead 'yung emotions natin when it comes to the war, na, 'Ay, matagal na 'yun eh, wala na'. We don't see the repercussions happening in present day," she said.

Five former comfort women were attended the launch of the exhibit. After viewing the artworks and other items on display, one of the women approached Mercado and said, "Napaiyak mo ako kasi matagal na namin hindi pinag-uusapan."

For these women, despite time wearing out both their bones and memories, the remaining days of their lives will be spent fighting for their stories to live on. — BM, GMA News

The exhibit may be viewed on the second floor of the Ateneo de Manila University's Rizal Library Special Collections Building until April 29, 2019.