A permanent home for Taiwan’s victims of wartime sexual slavery

By Yuan-Ming Chiao, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — TAIPEI, Taiwan — Chen Lien-hua (陳蓮花) appears composed as she gestures toward a glass panel painting she created, which is bursting with lilac lines that curve their way across the composition. The sweeping brushstrokes spill from a heart at the base of the panel, reaching across the composition like hands, bold and resolute. Chen, 92, known affectionately as “Lien-hua Ama,” (“Ama” means grandmother in Taiwanese), was on hand for a personalized tour through the AMA Museum (阿嬤家- 和平與女性人權館). The museum was established by the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation (TWRF, 婦女救援基金會) and dedicated to commemorating survivors of sex slavery under Japanese military occupation during World War II. Guided by attentive staff members, Chen stared intently at each of the photos of women who were part of the struggle for recognition, many of whom had already passed away. Like that glass panel painting by Lien-hua Ama, the new site goes beyond the stories of abuse that these women faced, delving into the collective action that they have taken toward healing. The museum draws public attention to an issue that has left an indelible mark on these women’s lives. And now the women’s memories have found a permanent home. A New Home The museum is the first human rights museum in Taiwan established by a non-governmental organization that promotes awareness of sexual violence and women’s empowerment.

Nestled in western Taipei’s historic Dadaocheng area, it opened its doors on Saturday, (Human Rights Day,) following years of preparatory work by the TWRF and its partner organizations. The newly refurbished building, while modest in size, contains the life stories of 59 Taiwanese women who have come forward with their stories about sexual slavery. It includes over 30 pieces of artwork created by the amas throughout 16 years of wellness art workshops, which have been submitted to UNESCO for listing under the Memory of the World Register.

The museum’s narrow “Song of the Reed Walk” hallway is bathed in warm light that travels through 59 carefully-crafted metal tubes, each intended to represent an ama. When visitors cup their hands under the beams of yellow light, names are revealed on the shadows of their palms. Thousands of tubes without names are dedicated to survivors whose identities remain unknown.

The two floors of the museum feature a permanent exhibition that introduces visitors to the history of the Japanese military’s institutionalized forms of sexual slavery, detailing “recruitment,” the trafficking of victims to overseas “comfort stations” and their stories of survival, as well as the human rights movement they subsequently helped lead.

Through donations from private individuals, as well as NT$3.8 million in public funding from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, the TWRF has collected just over half of what it needs to cover the museum’s opening and first two years of operational costs (estimated at NT$20 million). The TWRF hopes admission tickets and revenue from the museum’s AMA Cafe will allow the facility to become a self-sustaining institution.