Comfort Women

Indonesia was on the front lines of WWII more than many recognize.  The Dutch got tied up with the Nazi armies in Europe, and in 1942, the Japanese took over the archipelago, and then occupied the islands until the end of the war in 1945.  Originally, many Indonesians saw the Japanese as liberators, freeing them from the tyrannical rule of the Dutch.  Many Indonesians felt freedom might come under Asian rule.


In the end, however, the Japanese proved more brutal than the Dutch, and the Indonesian resistance to the Japanese became an essential period in the march towards independence.


In reading The Dutch Photobook:  A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards by Rik Suermondt and Frits Gierstberg, I came across a book offering up some human details from this moment in Indonesian history, Comfort Women by Jan Banning.


During the occupation, Japanese elite forced some Indonesian women into sexual slavery, making them “comfort women” for men in the military.


Together with cultural anthropologist Hilde Janssen, Dutch photographer Jan Banning traveled to Indonesia, and documented some of the remnants and victims of this history.


Comfort Women is a collection of portraits on women (many years later) who were forced into sexual slavery.  These portraits are then paired with posters of Japanese military propaganda.  There is a wonderful poetry and humanism to the pictures, and a profound conflict when viewed with the posters.


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