The Walking Battleground of Rape: Voices of Survivors

Share this:Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0

Sisters Liz and Sarah Coleman present their community art project Voices: Stories From Survivors of Sexual Violence at Nobrow on Jan. 21. Photo: Ruby Johnson

“Not too long ago, the four letter word that described my life was … rape … He may have had one night, but I have the rest of my life. There is nothing stronger than the human spirit, yours, mine, we are greater than we realize … we must realize our own intrinsic worth and rise up to our potential. Which four words describe my life now? Good, Love, Mine, Hope.” –Tiffany

“Will I want to find the meaning to my life again? Will I care?” –Anonymous

“It felt so good to give that shit back, because it’s not mine … it’s never our fault, no matter what anybody says, it’s never our fault.“ – Decia Holida

“I am but a chameleon that slips in and out of societies, subcultures and intimate moments. I can do this because who I am, how I see myself and where I fit in, has been taken away from me … This is who I am, who I was. I was sex, I was rape.”

“I am but a chameleon that slips in and out of societies, subcultures and intimate moments. I can do this because who I am, how I see myself and where I fit in, has been taken away from me … This is who I am, who I was. I was sex, I was rape.”

Shocking, emotional, heartbreaking, but most of all, empowering, Jane tells her story of being sexually abused from the age of two in the recent community art project, Voices: Stories From Survivors of Sexual Violence. This unique audio/visual installation created by sisters Liz and Sarah Coleman in partnership with The Rape Recovery Center features recorded stories of ten survivors of sexual violence compiled in a beautiful work of art that blends collage-style images with text and spoken word. “We wanted to showcase the human side of sexual violence, instead of regarding it as a very sterile, one-time, not long-lasting event,” says Sarah. The audio part of the installation can be heard in two different ways: through headphones in front of a monitor that displays a slideshow of relevant images, or through headphones on a portable device placed in front of a makeshift vanity with a mirror surrounded by a collage of words and images.

Local artist and volunteer with Centered City Yoga’s Inbody Outreach Program Daisy Johnson is behind the visual concept of the piece. Both parts of the work give distinct, yet equally powerful and emotion-evoking experiences.

“There’s a really great connection that you can make between someone’s voice and who they are as an individual,” says Liz. “I love the mirror piece because it offers a moment of self-reflection. With a piece of text, or even something you’re listening to, there’s that disconnect with you and the piece, but creating the mirror, you automatically become a piece within the piece … it’s not just happening to the person telling the story, it’s now happening to you, too. I think you get a deeper understanding of it, and it’s beautiful.”

As aesthetically pleasing as it is, the subject matter is difficult, and oftentimes graphic. It’s uncomfortable and jarring, but it is real. These are the experiences of your friends, your sisters, your daughters—the women of OUR community. They hit close to home and the Colemans expect them to—they are survivors themselves. “I’ve had a very long history with sexual violence, being a survivor, working with survivors every day … I always felt that my voice and my experience wasn’t validated and wasn’t heard. Once I started working with The Rape Recovery Center … owning my own story and owning my experience … helped me to start the process of recovery and healing,” says Sarah.

The Rape Recovery Center played a large role in the project, donating their professional services to the women and men who came to the writing and recording workshops, providing a safe space for the process and helping to spread the word. The Colemans reached out to as many people in the community as possible, publishing posters in Spanish and even including Spanish and ASL translators during the five weeks of open workshops. About 15 to 20 men and women started the process of writing and recording their stories with the aid of writing assistants and counselors, and 10 were completed. Sarah and Liz noted that the process triggers many memories and feelings and applauded everyone that attempted to tell their story.

One of the most important aspects of this project is taking away the idea of the victim and changing it to that of survivor. “After the process of writing the story, a lot of [the participants] came up to me and told me how empowering it was that they were able to physically tell their story. I think it creates a connection of healing that doesn’t happen elsewhere. Being able to use your voice and put your voice in your community where other people can hear it is really important,” Liz says.

The community’s reaction is also crucial. They are transcending education and awareness, and deliberately reaching out to their audience in a very unique and visceral way. “It’s a story that often goes untold … circumstances that are so taboo, but so destructive to our community. Not only is it inspiring for people who have been under those circumstances, but for people who have not. Being able to change the conversation so people can say what they want to about their circumstance was key,” says Liz.

Sarah adds, “It’s really easy to detach yourself from something so horrific … it’s devalued and de-emphasized of how important it is. It’s a privilege to remove yourself, it’s a privilege not to have to experience this kind of trauma, not only is it isolating and not only does it destroy and reorganize so many different parts of you, but it keeps you in a constant oppressed state—you don’t have a choice to step away from this, this is with you for the rest of your life.”

Voices premiered at the Sorenson Unity Center in October, receiving a lot of positive support from the community. The Colemans hope to continue to create projects that address the needs of the community and showcase the power and strength of the human spirit through their new non-profit organization, Truth Be Told Productions. Brainstorming for an audio project on domestic violence has already begun.

Voices: Stories From Survivors of Sexual Violence opens at Nobrow, 315 E. Broadway, during January’s Gallery Stroll on January 21. You can also listen to all ten stories online at vocalo.org/users/truth-be-told-productions.

Photos:
Sisters Liz and Sarah Coleman present their community art project Voices: Stories From Survivors of Sexual Violence at Nobrow on Jan. 21. Photo: Ruby Johnson