Statue of Peace
Symbolism of statues
There are many sites around the world that memorialize Comfort Women. First made in 2011, the Statue of Peace. 'Sonyeosang' [소녀상] in Korean which literally translates to "statue of girl," will always have the following elements:
1. Short, uneven hair represents the abrupt end to her childhood and removal from her family and home.
2. Determined face expression and tightly clenched fists show her firm will to receive an apology and attain justice.
3. Small bird on her shoulder symbolizes peace and freedom. The bird is also nature’s symbolic link to the Comfort Women who passed away.
4. Barefoot represents the comfort women were forced to be barefoot to prevent them from running away. Her soles do not fully touch the ground, representing the many girls unable to return home.
5. Empty chair symbolizes the many Comfort Women who have passed away and are unable to fight for justice. It is also a place for us to sit and attempt to understand the pain the young girl sitting next to us had to endure.
Palisades Park, New Jersey
In 2010, the mayor of Palisades Park, New Jersey -- where half of his constituents are of Korean heritage -- set up a Comfort Women memorial outside the Palisades Park Public Library. The inscription on the memorial reads as follows:
"In memory of more than 200,000 women and girls who were abducted by the armed forces of the government of Imperial Japan 1930s-1945 known as ‘Comfort Women.’ They endured human rights violations that no peoples should leave unrecognized. Let us never forget the horrors of crimes against humanity.”
After the memorial was officially unveiled, the Japanese Consulate in New York and members of Japan's parliament objected to the memorial on the grounds that the Comfort Women had actually voluntarily signed up to be prostitutes. Despite opposition, the Statue of Peace stands resolute in Palisades Park to this day.
Seoul, South Korea
In 2011, in celebration of the 1000th anniversary since the start of the Wednesday Demonstrations, the Statue of Peace was unveiled in front of the Japanese embassy. This small statue has enraged the Japanese government multiple times, and is still a source of diplomatic tension.
Statues are important because they determine what values and facts a community will permanently remember.
They become part of a town's structure and remind passersby everyday what the statue symbolizes. It becomes a site for members of a community to gather to memorialize, conduct rallies, celebrate important landmarks, and protest in front of.
Here are a few examples of famous Statue of Peace sites around the world.
In 2014, the Global Alliance for Historical Truth (GAHT), a Japanese nationalist organization founded by Dr.Koichi Mera, filed a lawsuit against the city of Glendale, California, where a Comfort Women memorial is located. On August 4, 2016, the federal appellate ruled in favor of the city, considering the memorial no different to other sites commemorating historical and international issues. Despite the Japanese government's brief in support of GAHT's petition to the Supreme Court, the petition was denied, officially ending the lawsuit.
On September 28, 2020, the group of the Korea Verband helped erect a Statue of Peace in Berlin-Moabit district. Although there were already two Statues of Peace in Germany, this was significant as it was the first time the statue was placed in a public square. However, soon after the statue was unveiled, the Japanese government asked for its immediate removal. Thanks to the hard work of many Berlin-based civil groups and activists who fought to keep the statue, the order to remove the statue was dismissed. A few months later, the local council of Berlin's Mitte district passed a resolution to permanently install the statue. On International Women's Day 2021, German citizens gathered in front of the statue for the first time to celebrate women, speak about domestic violence, sexual violence, and other human rights violations that are still prevalent in the world today. Nataly Jung-Hwa Han, the chairwoman of Korea Verband said in the rally,
"The Statue of Peace symbolizes women who were forced into sexual slavery. The statue is about the women who have publicly shared their experiences and challenged the patriarchy. The Statue of Peace must remain in Berlin."
Many Statues of Peace around the world are not given the attention it deserves. Many are vandalized, constantly threatened to be removed, and ignored by citizens walking by it. On a cold winter day, I embarked on a quest to visit as many statues as I could. It is a custom in Korea to bring flowers and winter clothes to decorate the Statue of Peace. As I visited the statues scattered in Seoul, some statues were well taken care of; visibly adored and protected by the street vendors near it, dressed in warm colorful shoes, a thick blanket, and covered in a thoughtfully knitted matching wool set. Some statues were tucked away in lonely corners, in abandoned parks, away from the main street, juxtaposing the colorful stores and busy streets that surrounded it. The most famous and significant statue stands resolute in front of the Japanese embassy, where demonstrations have been occurring every Wednesday since 1992. Towered by intimidating buildings and police buses, the statue of the girl boldly faces the Japanese embassy.
Grandma Lee Yong-Soo's quote haunts me through the entire journey: "We need more memorials to remember the truth. I am living proof of the history. But when I'm gone, who will tell the story to the next generation?" Grandma Lee is now ninety-two. More Comfort Women memorials should be constructed in solidarity with the Grandmas currently fighting for just compensation and an apology from the Japanese government. Beyond that, these statues serve as a reminder of the prevalence of human trafficking and sexual violence in conflict zones. There is a stigma on talking about rape, sexual violence in the public square even though it is such a prevalent issue both in history and in the present. The Statue of Peace is a permanent reminder of these international issues, in the hope that we will be able to find proper solutions to help the victims of sexual violence and trafficking.
Statue of Peace Locations
Click to find out more