A few months ago, I learnt of my friend’s unexpected (and traumatic) discovery of her grandmother’s secret past as a coerced Comfort Woman for the Japanese military in Malaysia during her teenage years.

I created this work to honour her. 

In this divergent approach from the aesthetics of full-disclosure in the art of display and the display of art, three hundred and ninety circular magnifying lenses organically overlap to create an interface between the audience and what lies behind in the work She’s Closer Than You Think 2019. These lenses form a front, or an affront - a vertical plane - by which and through which literal face-to-face transactions between people and the image-object are conducted. A  means to mediate, enhance or rather counter-intuitively, to obscure vision (depending on one’s viewing position), these lenses modulate the elusive re/appearance or disappearance of what can or cannot be seen, how or when that occurs as a consequence of shifting one’s view laterally in tandem with the enabling or disabling perceptual qualities of such an optical material.* The same lens that magnifies a view can also present differing or adjacent view/points that were hitherto “unavailable,” until the moment one steps sideways or across the front of the work. Here, apertures that are burnt into the lenses themselves, or ones that are actual physical gaps between lenses, also offer a direct glimpse into the (painted) scene behind the (magnified) scenes, except in true scale. See Video

This portrayal in slivers of time rather than in whole, achieved by the way the lenses optically dissassemble the “sutured” image behind such that the past is re/enlivened as memories that literally,  and visually, fade in and out before one’s very eyes, as though vision itself is passing in and out of consciousness in tandem with the viewer’s changing position, communicates my close friend’s recent disturbing and traumatic discovery of her grandmother’s secret past as a coerced Comfort Woman for the Japanese military while still a young girl.  Numerous photos of her grandmother spanning teenage years, adulthood to full maturity before her passing are positioned together by treating each age-image as individuals who were present at the same time, as though these disparate selves that provide both beauty and loving memories (then) as much as grief and pain (now) for my friend, have all gathered in the one place - the canvas surface - in one sitting (many periods of her lifetime at once), and one setting (a unified field of flora and fauna derived from vintage china) to commemorate and re-member her collective Selves as a single, yet monumental moment of time and space. 

A slight shift in position reveals other younger or older faces close by, that were until then, invisible - held in exile (See Video). This portrayal in slivers of time rather than in whole, achieved by the way the lenses optically dissassemble the “sutured” image behind such that the past is re/enlivened as memories that literally,  and visually, fade in and out before one’s very eyes, as though vision itself is passing in and out of consciousness in tandem with the viewer’s changing position, communicates my close friend’s recent disturbing and traumatic discovery of her grandmother’s secret past as a coerced Comfort Woman for the Japanese military while still a young girl.  Numerous photos of her grandmother spanning teenage years, adulthood to full maturity before her passing are positioned together by treating each age-image as individuals who were present at the same time, as though these disparate selves that provide both beauty and loving memories (then) as much as grief and pain (now) for my friend, have all gathered in the one place - the canvas surface - in one sitting (many periods of her lifetime at once), and one setting (a unified field of flora and fauna derived from vintage china) to commemorate and re-member her collective Selves as a single, yet monumental moment of time and space. Clasped hands appear unnaturally larger than the face they belong to, as though all good sense of scale and propriety as well as compositional taste and perspective have gone awry, just like my friend’s self-concept of her once (more) intact identity and selfhood - race, ethnicity, nationality, lineage, ancestry and heritage - weighted down by or weighed up with the violence, oppression and cruelty that pervades the psycho-geography of Southeast Asian atrocities - is involuntarily and vehemently questioned and re-questioned, as not only a part of the transgenerational trauma of nationally-contested secrets and bias, narratives and his/tories, but also the trauma of selfhood, where with that now previous Self (as a Chinese woman) lived and continues to live and imposed Oppressor-Other (as a recently genetically-tested Chinese-Japanese) all that time. 

To me, these historical images of her grandmother were magnificent in its power, not only of the summoning of deep courage to just survive in the face of but prevail over undeserved imposed shame, taboo, self-exile or otherwise, but also attests to her legacy of successive thriving generations, as exemplified by her granddaughter, my friend, who in granting me this knowledge, has in turn shown us that the euphemistically termed ‘Comfort Woman’ that revisionist conservatives seek to re-produce as a falsehood, or a chain of inaccuracies. whilst in the comfort of banality and distance, could very well be the very proximity they fear and loathe in the form of the acquaintance, neighbour, colleage, relative, friend, family - she is closer than you think, She is not someone else’s issue. She is our issue. 

* I wish to acknowledge and thank the Chua Family of Malaysia and Australia for their unflinching courage and generosity in supporting and contributing to the making of this series of work. 

* My deepest thanks and gratitude to the Curators of the exhibition Shaping Geographies, Dr Michelle Antoinette & Dr Wulan Dirgantoro, for uncovering the work of Southeast Asian women artists and writing about them. 

* My gratitude to Gajah Gallery’s Jasdeep Sandhu for believing in the work of Southeast Asian women artists, Aisha Amrin for inspiring the realisation of this important show, and James Page and his team at YAL for looking after the production of this work at Gajah’s production site & foundry in Jogjakarta with such sensitivity and professionalism. 

* The lens material in this work were first used in the installation Third World Extra Virgin Dreams 1997 presented in one of only two vaults in the Cabania Fortress that featured a skylight at the 6th Havana Biennial . 

* The development of lenses into a veneer through which the audience encounters the work behind had its genesis in the series I Was Like That Myself 2015,  which formed part of the solo exhibition IMPRINT: New Works by Suzann Victor 2015 presented by STPI (Singapore Tyler Print Institute) -  the culmination of working processes arising from this artist’s invited residency there. 

     © Suzann Victor 2020