This article is an expansion of a keynote speech delivered at the international symposium on “War and Gender in Korean and Japanese Art Histories”, organized by the Korea Association for History of Modern Art and held at Seoul National University on October 23, 2010. In keeping with the purpose for which this paper was originally written, I have examined how the politics of representation has been deeply rooted in visual images related to war and gender that have been produced across cultures and societies in the process of making histories.
This article focuses on universal characteristics prevalent in images of war and gender represented in modern art and visual culture in the form of fine arts, photographs, prints,posters, postcards, advertisements, newspaper and magazine illustrations, cartoons, and media arts. Representations of race and gender in diverse societies and cultures have demonstrated almost perpetual changes, while reflecting the continuously shifting political and cultural relations among nations. The gendering of war as well as the gender roles of male and female represented in visual images, however, show that they have shared universal consistency across societies, regardless of cultural divergence from Asia to Europe and the United States.
I examined the following cross-cultural consistency illustrated in numerous visual images related to war and gender.
First, the conqueror/the powerful is gendered as masculine/culture, whereas the conquered/the weak is gendered as feminine/nature. This system of gendering war includes images representing the victor’s masculine domination and sexual assaults over the feminized enemy.
Second, in wartime visual images-particularly in propaganda-men are given the “masculine” gender role and asked to prove their manhood by participating in war to protect their country, women, and children. Men’s gender identity becomes synonymous with war hero, warrior, martyr, or victim for his country.
152Third, women’s presence is much scarcer than men’s in war-related images. However,representations of women demonstrate more complex and marginalized gender identity.
They can be divided into several types:1. Women’s“ femininity” is utilized to reinforce men’s“ masculinity”. In the same line with men’s gender role in the above, women’s weakness, along with children’s, is emphasized to evoke men’s duty for protection and shame for unmanly behavior.
2. Women as breadwinners, taking responsibilities for children and home.
3. Women as laborers and workers, replacing men’s duties in the home front, as well as physical and mental supporters and nurturers such as nurses, comforters, performers.
4. Women as war victims, such as subjects of violence and rape, comfort women, and prostitutes. These types of women are most frequently rendered by female artists who often advocate peace activism and anti-war messages.
While examining this consistency in war-related art and visual culture, I have discussed some possible reasons behind the universal characteristics and, furthermore, have shown how images of“ masculinity” and“ femininity” are created utilizing methods that are crossculturally identical in patriarchic societies, even when each image reflects and advocates its’own nationalistic agenda.