There are only two statues of women in San Francisco, but Friday’s unveiling of four more has been spurring a contentious argument for the last two years. A statue commemorating World War II-era South Korean and Chinese “comfort women” debuted Friday afternoon at St. Mary’s Square on the border of the Financial District and Chinatown, after sparking angry opposition from the Japanese-American community.
Created by Carmel-based sculptor Steven Whyte, the statue depicts three young women bravely joining hands as they’re being cast into sexual slavery, with a forlorn grandmother to their side. The inscription at the base of the statue reads, “This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls euphemistically called ‘Comfort Women,’ who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945”
Even that innocuous.wording went through multiple edits and received several hundred emails of opposition when it was considered by the San Francisco Arts Coalition in February
Former supervisor Eric Mar, who introduced the resolution to build the memorial in 2015, teared up when speaking before the statue’s curtain was lifted. “I see my daughter Jade, who is 17 years old, in their eyes,” a choked up Mar said.
The memorial has been bitterly opposed by many segments of the Japanese-American community, “Unfortunately, the aim of current comfort women memorial movements seems to perpetuate and fixate on certain one-sided interpretations, without presenting credible evidence,” Japanese consulate general Han Yamada told the Washington Post. Additionally, artist Sarah Sze withdrew her sculpture Book of Rocks upon learning it would be on the same site as the Comfort Women memorial.
But the statue of the three girls and a grandmother now overlooks San Francisco. If you really want to get a lump in your throat, here’s video of one of the last surviving comfort women Yong-Soo Lee addressing the crowd just before the unveiling.