The Vanishing Act – Part One

By Jaye Ho

The Vanishing Act’, a two-part solo exhibition of new paintings by artist Jaye Ho.

Part Two will be available to view from 27th October.

Part One: My Family History

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‘The Vanishing Act’ refers to several things. During Remembrance Sunday we mostly remember the fallen soldiers, not the raped and murdered civilians. It’s as if these atrocity crimes have ‘vanished’ from history – tragic for the survivors, and highlighting the extreme difficulty they encounter when trying to seek justice. The Vanishing Act, is also about obscuring the people and objects in my paintings so you can never see clearly what they look like. It’s a viewing prism. It serves to protect victims identity, and also condemn the perpetrators.

I was inspired to paint about this because my aunts grew up in WW2 occupied Malaysia and Singapore. As girls, they were in danger of being raped and murdered by Japanese soldiers, so they had to pretend to be boys to survive. I painted their portraits from old photos, and masked their faces, as they must have done at that time. The colours I use are inspired by Peranakan culture.

Like most artists I have a day job to pay the bills. For me, this is working for the UK government on human rights. On a work trip to Cambodia I visited S21, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison. I was struck by photographs of Khmer Rouge leaders, including Pol Pot, that were most likely defaced by victims families – scratched by scissors or knives, so you couldn’t see their faces, reminiscent of the violent acts they planned and ordered.

Going back to my family, I was interested to find out who were responsible for the atrocity crimes in South East Asia during WW2. Singapore and Malaysia were occupied by the Japanese from the surrender of British forces in 1942 until the end of the war. In Singapore, ‘Sook Ching’ resulted in the mass-execution of thousands of ethnic Chinese men. As tragic as this is, I think the women taken as sex slaves suffered far worse.

‘The colonel vanishes’ references Tsuji Masanobu, who was involved in the planning of Sook Ching, and managed to evaded capture and trial after the end of WW2. He later vanished during a trip to Laos. Tomoyuki Yamashita led the invasion of Malaysia and Singapore. He was put on trial, found guilty of his troops’ atrocities and hanged. ‘Command responsibility’ or ‘Yamashita Standard’ has since been adopted by international criminal tribunals and courts – fascinating for me because my day job involved working on the International Criminal Court, and I know how difficult it is for courts to prove this.

I am incredibly grateful that my childhood was not like my aunts. My parents met in London and eventually settled in Oxford where I grew up. In ‘Memory space – Peranakan woman’ a South Korean comfort woman statue sits over a photograph of a model of my childhood bedroom. I am around the same age of my aunts during WW2 in ‘Reading Festival’ – without a care in the world.

In part two I will talk about ‘comfort women’, the women forced into sexual slavery during WW2, and survivors seeking justice.

Image Credit: Jaye Ho

Tell us what you think by completing our feedback form below, and don’t forget to visit our window gallery where four paintings from this exhibition are on display until 26th October. Part two launches online and in the window gallery from 27th October.

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