A direct provocation to bear witness to the testimonies of three former “comfort women” who are among the oldest living survivors of militarized sexual violence in the world today.
The interactive web documentary The Space We Hold is a direct provocation to audiences to bear witness to the testimonies of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations,” the three “grandmothers” – Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines – are now among the world’s oldest living survivors of militarized sexual violence. After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they courageously agree to share their stories with those who are willing to listen.
Demanding the user’s attention throughout their intimate first-hand accounts, the experience guides the user from a solitary act of witnessing to become part of a collective, networked response to the grandmothers. In a world where rape continues to be used as a weapon of war, The Space We Hold provides a unique window into the challenges of reconciliation and what it means to bear witness to testimonies of sexual violence in a digital age.
Based on Tiffany Hsiung’s powerful, award-winning documentary The Apology, the interactive web project The Space We Hold is a direct provocation to audiences to bear witness to the testimonies of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations”, the three “grandmothers” – Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines – face their twilight years in fading health. After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten.
Gil Won-Ok, or “Grandma Gil”, as she is affectionately known among a well-established network of activists, has been attending weekly demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul for years. Despite her age and declining health, Grandma Gil played a key role in securing an official apology from the Japanese government – including a gruelling trip to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she delivered a petition with over a million signatures on behalf of her fellow survivors.
Grandma Cao lives in a remote village surrounded by mountains in rural China, where what happened to hundreds of local girls after they were kidnapped has long been an open secret among the old-timers. Fiercely independent, Grandma Cao insists on living alone despite the protests of her loyal daughter, who has been unaware of her mother’s story. It takes the request of a historian for her testimony of her experiences for Grandma Cao to break decades of stoic silence about her painful past.
In Roxas City, Philippines, Grandma Adela manages to finds solace, camaraderie, and a sense of freedom as part of a support group for other survivors. Though she found love after the war, she carefully hid the truth about her past from her husband. She is now overcome with guilt for not sharing her secret with him while he was still alive. She resolves to tell her children, but remains unsure whether unburdening herself after all these years will make up for never having told the truth to the love of her life.
As the grandmothers recount their devastating stories, users are asked to demonstrate their presence via keyboard prompts. This active engagement demands users’ attention as they are guided from a solitary act of witnessing to become part of a collective, networked response to the grandmothers.
The experience ultimately extends beyond individual and collective witnessing to provide a unique window into the challenges of societal reconciliation and what it means to bear witness to testimonies of sexual violence in a digital age.
In an era where rape continues to be used as a weapon of war and where sexual shaming and online harassment is commonplace, The Space We Hold asks us to imagine news ways of listening and responding to stories of sexual violence.
The Space We Hold is a co-production between the award-winning National Film Board studio responsible for the critically acclaimed interactive documentary projects Highrise and The Deeper They Bury Me, and the digital production company Cult Leader.
A CO-PRODUCTION BY
THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
DIRECTED BY / CREATED BY
PATRICIA LEE for CULT LEADER
DAVID OPPENHEIM for NFB
ANITA LEE (NFB)
ADELA REYES BARROQUILLO
CAO HEI MAO
ORIGINAL FOOTAGE SHOT AND DIRECTED BY
ORIGINAL MUSIC & INTERACTIVE SOUND DESIGN
STACEY MAY FOWLES
NARRATION WRITTEN BY
PROGRAMMING & DEVELOPMENT BY
ART & SCIENCE
CO-DIRECTOR OF USER EXPERIENCE
SPENCER SAUNDERS – ART & SCIENCE
KIRK CLYNE – ART & SCIENCE
DAVID PELL – ART & SCIENCE
ANDOR SALGA – ART & SCIENCE
DAVID TRAN – ART & SCIENCE
SOUND MIX PROVIDED BY
USER EXPERIENCE CONSULTANTS
KARIN VON OMPTEDA
FOR CULT LEADER
JAE GOLD ENTERTAINMENT ACCOUNTANTS
FRONT ROW INSURANCE
SENIOR PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
LESLIE ANNE POYNTZ
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
SERGIU RAUL SUCIO
OPERATIONS MANAGER, DIGITAL STUDIO
BUSINESS AND LEGAL AFFAIRS
Ph.D./GLOBAL PHOTO ARCHIVE/FLICKR
©2009 SAMER MUSCATI
© 2015 SAMER MUSCATI/HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
ZHANG SHUANG BING
Made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation