book covers for A Cruelty Special to Our Species; & Embodied Reckonings; and a cartography map of South Asia with the words "Traffic in Asian Women" overlayed

Facing “Comfort Women”: Representations and Reckonings

Presented by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. Co-sponsored by the NYU Center for the Study of Gender & Sexuality, NYU Department of Performance Studies, NYU Department of East Asian Studies, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, and Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program in the NYU Department of Social & Cultural Analysis.


This panel brings in conversation scholars and writers thinking through the representations and circulation of images of so-called “comfort women,” the over 200,000 mostly Korean girls and women forced into sexual labor by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II.

In Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress (University of Michigan Press, 2018), Elizabeth Son (Northwestern University) examines the early 1990s performance practices—protests, tribunals, theater, and memorial-building projects—of “comfort women” and their supporters, investigating the relationship between redress, performance, and the law. Emily Jungmin Yoon’s (University of Chicago) poetry collection A Cruelty Special to Our Species (HarperCollins, 2018) demonstrates this history’s enduring impact in the diaspora by raising questions about collective memory and inherited trauma. Laura Hyun Yi Kang’s (University of California, Irvine) Traffic in Asian Women (Duke University Press, September 2020) examines the prolific representation and circulation of “Asian women” through the convergence of new communication technologies, governance regimes, and political-economic shifts at the end of the twentieth century. Karen Shimakawa (NYU Performance Studies) moderates.

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Laura Kang is a professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (Duke University Press, 2002). Her new book titled, Traffic in Asian Women, will be published in August 2020 by Duke University Press. 

Karen Shimakawa is the author of National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage (Duke University Press, 2003) and co-editor of Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2001) with Kandice Chuh.  Her research and teaching focus on critical race theory, law and performance, and Asian American performance.  She is currently researching a project on the political and ethical performativity of discomfort.

Elizabeth Son is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, with courtesy appointments in the Asian American Studies Program, Program in American Studies, and the Department of Performance Studies. She is the author of Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress (University of Michigan Press, 2018), which was named a Finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association and received the Outstanding Book Award from the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, & Gender. As a Mellon/ACLS Scholars & Society fellow, she is currently in residence at KAN-WIN, an organization that supports Asian American survivors of gender-based violence in Chicagoland.

Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018), winner of the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press, 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. Her poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, and elsewhere. She has accepted awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, AWP’s WC&C Scholarship Competition, the Aspen Institute, and elsewhere. She is the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD candidate in Korean literature at the University of Chicago.