Comfort Women’s Column of Strength

Submitted by Steven Whyte

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Client: San Francisco Art Commission

Location: San Francisco, CA, United States

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $398,000

Project Team

Artist

Steven Whyte

Steven Whyte Studios

Client

Comfort Women Justice Coalition

Comfort Women Justice Coalition

Overview

Steven Whyte depicted the sensitive subject matter of the World War II Comfort Women figuratively, thusly actualizing the struggle while still making the monument's message of women's rights universal. The monument focused on a few key sentiments: vulnerability, resolve, solidarity, resilience, demand of recognition. The raised height of the women declares that they will no longer have their story hidden in shame. Instead, their bravery and perseverance demand acknowledgement. Staring down at visitors to the park, each of the women wears a resolute expression and an unyielding gaze.

Goals

The three females are Chinese, Korean, and Filipina, aged 12-18 years old at the cusp of womanhood. They stand tall in solidarity next to each other, rising above their tarnished past. Viewing the monument from the ground is a figure of Kim Hak-sun, the human rights activist and Comfort Women survivor. The grandma figure looks at the young women with resilient power reminding all that justice will and ought to have its resolution. This concept is reinforced by the sculpture’s patina, which gradually fades from dark to light so that the viewers' gaze is drawn upward, right to the faces of the three girls. Whyte makes just one exception to this pattern. A lighter color is also seen on the figures’ hands, once more emphasizing the power of the girls’ shared strength. The remarkable dexterity of Whyte’s design is that it focuses on the women in a way that showcases their courage rather than focusing on vilifying or accusing others. It uses the sensitive subject as an opportunity to not only create a work of stirring beauty, but to also create a permanent catalyst for reflection.

Process

Sculptor Steven Whyte worked closely with the architect and engineers whom designed the rooftop terrace that was acquired by the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department for public park space. The monument is installed on a naturalized rooftop park extension that is level with the St. Mary's Square.