Hastings-based artist Jaye Ho’s solo exhibition, The Vanishing Act (6th October-22nd November 2020), explores thought-provoking themes of sexual violence, gender discrimination and conflict, from both a personal and wider societal point of view.

Hosted by the ONCA Gallery, in Brighton, this startling body of work can be viewed in two parts, both online and via a specially curated window display held at the gallery itself.

Jaye Ho’s series of beautifully rendered paintings act as a striking juxtaposition to the disturbing subject matter they so unflinchingly portray. Born in Oxford to Singaporean and Malaysian parents, the first part of The Vanishing Act draws on Jaye’s own rich cultural heritage, as well as the foreboding reality of life for her ancestors who grew up in the Japanese occupied territories of South East Asia during World War II.

1st Aunty By Jaye Ho

The opening section of the show: My Family History (6th-25th October 2020) features a series of images of Jaye Ho’s Aunts, all of which were painted from actual family photographs. The women’s faces are only partially visible, purposefully obscured by a myriad of geometric shapes and colourful prisms, an effect which mirrors her Aunts’ personal experiences as females living under the constant threat of rape and torture from occupying forces during the war.

The paintings serve as a poignant reminder of the hidden atrocities of conflict and in particular, the inherent vulnerability of females, who by default of gender are often forced to endure truly unspeakable acts of brutality. Indeed I was shocked to discover during the course of the exhibition, that Jaye’s Aunts had to actively renounce their physical likeness as girls by disguising themselves as boys, in order to avoid such persecution.

In addition to her career as an artist, Jaye also works for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office within the Human Rights sector, and this has undoubtedly influenced her subsequent creative output, as is evident in this exhibition.

In keeping with the latter, Ho also  considers the role of perpetrators in My Family History by featuring opposing images of war criminals, such as the notorious Japanese army officer and politician Tsuji Masanobu, who managed to evade capture after the end of World War II. In the aptly titled painting, The Colonel Vanishes, Masanobu’s face is once again concealed, as Jaye presents her audience with a vision of uncompromising truth, one where the criminal looks on, still adorned in the military medals awarded to him for such historical acts of cruelty and barbarism.

Kim Hak-Sun the Survivor and the Skeleton Spectre By Jaye Ho

In the image Reading Festival, Jaye herself stands smiling amongst a crowd of people – a striking visual statement which acknowledges the immense privilege of growing up in the UK during peace time, without the fear her Aunts and so many others were forced to endure. 

The concluding part of the show: Seeking Justice (27th October– 22nd November 2020) views the horrors of war through a more globalised lens – whilst also acknowledging that violence and cruelty are carried out by all sides.

Mounds of elaborately painted skulls echo the undeniable loss of life caused by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime and the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia, as scattered layers of luminous pixels act as a sobering reminder, that what we are seeing is real and yet so mercifully distant from one’s present-day reality.

Perhaps the most memorable image of the exhibition is Kim Hak-Sun the Survivor and the Skeleton Spectre, which pays homage to the ‘comfort women’ of South Korea. ‘Comfort women’ were enslaved civilians, coerced against their will into sexual servitude to Japanese soldiers, before being murdered, in order to remove any evidence of the crimes thus committed. The women who survived would be consigned to a life of stigma and shame if they spoke about their experiences publicly. Kim Hak-Sun was the first former comfort woman to speak openly about what had happened to her and Jaye Ho celebrates her astounding courage in this haunting work, which also  references the renowned painting Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

The Colonel Vanishes By Jaye Ho

The figure of Kim Hak-Sun remains hidden, shrouded in a flurry of pixels, whilst the macabre splendour of the skeletal witch dominates the picture, something which Jaye herself concedes is an intentional inversion of more traditional connotations, as the witch represents spectres of the past which some may wish to remain hidden, but which the voices of survivors are bringing to the fore.

Accompanying portraits of the defaced visages of dictators stand in direct contrast to the only image in The Vanishing Act in which the subjects face is apparent. Minova depicts an anonymous woman giving testimony in court, against the soldiers who raped her, as the assailants stand in the background. The painting itself is based on a photo by Diane Zeyneb Alhindawi and details the invasion of the village Minova (located in The Democratic Republic of Congo) by armed militia, during which many innocent inhabitants were callously raped and murdered. The image honours the immeasurable courage of the victims, who in the face of such terrible adversity spoke up, in search of justice and freedom.

The Vanishing Act is an exhibition of huge significance – one that is more relevant than ever given the increasingly volatile nature of the world in which we co-exist. Perhaps the most powerful statement of all, however, is Jaye Ho’s innate quest for justice for all victims – past and present – who have for so long been denied the platform and acknowledgment they so rightly deserve.

The Vanishing Act runs until 22nd November 2020 at ONCA Gallery Brighton. Please refer to the gallery website for further details www.onca.org.uk

Mia. L talks to artist Jaye Ho about her exhibition The Vanishing Act in an Arts special episode of The Hastings Independent podcast. Listen here

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