Artist Rose Camastro-Pritchett brings Comfort Women Project to Menlo College

by Linda Hubbard on October 24, 2018

In 2013, when artist Rose Camastro Pritchett was invited to participate in 85 Years 85 Artists at Menlo College and was given the year 1940 to respond to with artwork, little did she know that it would start her on a new artistic pursuit. Already familiar with China through an association with Jiujiang University, she discovered that in 1940 the Japanese military at set up “comfort stations” (brothels) all over China after the Nanking Massacre.

“In what is also known as the ‘Rape of Nanking,’ the Japanese military had terrorized and raped Chinese women,” she said  this week, in an office on the Menlo College campus adjacent to where her Comfort Women Project art is displayed. “The Japanese military wanted the troops to have sex but didn’t want to terrorize the villagers.

“So they kidnapped Chinese women — really more like teenage girls — and set up ‘comfort stations.’ Some stations were just tiny little rooms, but others were in what had been restaurants and temples. And some were purpose built.”

By war’s end, there were over 2,000 comfort stations, and over 200,000 comfort women from Japan, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, and Indochina, including Dutch colonialists, had been forced to become comfort women.

Menlo College is displaying Rose’s comfort women art project in its Administration Building from now through November 15. There will be a reception on Thursday, Oct. 25, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm, that is open to the public. Rose will be in attendance and will remain an artist-in-residence at the school during the exhibit.

Rose uses pulp painting, hand stitching, and silk thread to make her art on paper handmade by the artist. “I used stitching because that’s considered women’s work,” she said. “What I really worked hard on was the imaging. I wanted to illustrate the horror of the comfort women story in a way that the audience could engage with rather than be shocked.”

Rose acknowledges that there’s direct line between comfort women and what is going on today with the #MeToo movement. “History teaches awareness. People can draw the line to what is happening now and act.”

She adds in her artist statement: “The intent of the comfort women project is to provide a platform for dialogue about sexual violence. The common thread of shame and silence about sexual abuse, whether it is as highly organized and brutal as in the case of the comfort women in China; perpetrated by men of power in Hollywood, the American news media, and the White House; or secretly done by a father to his daughter in Evanston, Illinois. It needs to be talked about, exposed, and not forgotten.”

Events related to the Comfort Women Project include: OAKtoberFest on Saturday, Oct. 27 where Rose will be available to discuss her project; a panel discussion on Nov. 13 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm in 316 Florence Moore Hall; an art installation in Bowman Library in conjunction with the Menlo College Art Club addressing the emotional impact of sexual abuse. More details are available online.

Photo of artist by Linda Hubbard (c) 2018

Illustration: Comfort Women Quilt Patch Map (2016) 10 ½” x 10 ½” Handmade paper, pulp painting, hand stitching, silk thread, photocopy of original 1937 map of China; Red french knots indicate the comfort stations.

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