My broadside, entitled Comfort, is meant to call attention to the trauma that affects women who are victims of violence and sexual assault. The print depicts an abstract figure of a woman bent slightly down, as the weight of her past presses down on her back and shoulders. Her hair is long and flows to the floor, symbolizing stereotypical depictions of femininity and the oppressive assumptions that follow: weakness, submissiveness, and silence. She is beyond the point of crying in anguish, as such pain has now become her daily reality. The background around her mimics her world: clouded with fear and shame. The dusty pink color functions similarly as a classical feminine symbol, that is slightly dustier and slightly less clear. She no longer sees her surroundings as safe, and she is no longer comfortable with her femininity.
My inspirations for this piece come from several sources. Vocalizing the trauma of women is a very important topic to me personally, and I aim to remind viewers that trauma isn't something that can necessarily be “healed”. Onlookers love to recommend the lastest self-care trends, from therapy to yoga, from mindfulness to long walks on the beach, with the justification that such practices will help the victim “heal.” While suggestions may come from a place of love, they propagate the notion that an emotional upheaval of one’s entire reality and self-image can be “fixed” with a simple to-do list. They ask, “Why are you still talking about this? It happened so long ago.” They say, “You should be stronger,” and, “You shouldn't let this affect you.” But trauma doesn’t work like that. It weighs down for years, even decades later. Such a burden cannot be shed by a pep talk, or a new environment, or a therapy session, or a bubble bath. Trauma follows.
I was heavily inspired by the documentary The Apology (2018), which follows the lives and stories of three women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. These women, along with over 200,000 others, were kidnapped from their homelands and forced to become “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. The vulgar irony of the phrase “comfort” used in this context disgusts me on such a visceral level, and I felt it was a loathsome yet appropriate title for this broadside.
In a truly heartbreaking story, these former “comfort women,” now referred to as “grandmothers,” speak about their experiences, their silence, and their shame. They emphasize how, although these traumatic events occured over 70 years ago, they have not forgotten, and are still deeply affected by their trauma to this day. One woman’s words stood out to me: when she discusses the ways the trauma has affected every aspect of her life, she demands an apology from the Japanese government, saying, “They changed the way I lived my life forever, and I didn't like it.” These same words appear in black ink beside the figure in the broadside, for I feel they perfectly encompass the emotional magnitude of traumatic experiences.
I am in awe of the courage and strength of these women. They grew up to have careers, raise families, and work hard each day for their loved ones. They refused to let trauma permanently debilitate them, and I so greatly admire their tenacity and love. Just as these women had to keep moving forward, the woman in the broadside still stands despite the weight thrust upon her. Their story is an important one, and I want to continue to tell it.
-Holly Miller, Scripps '21