Posted: Wednesday 5th February 2020
Carol Metters, CEO of Safe Link Sexual Violence services and Next Link Domestic abuse services, discusses why art can be important for a victim’s recovery journey.
Interventions/2 was a series of avant-garde films by artist and activist, Yoko Ono. The films played in rooms throughout the Georgian House Museum in Bristol. ‘Arising , a more recent work addressing the abuse of women, featured within the exhibition. It was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2013, and Next Link and Safe Link were delighted to be collaborators with the curator and artist Jimmy Galvin and Bristol Museum in this work.
When Jimmy and Becky from Bristol Museum came to talk to us about the exhibition we were not sure if victims would want to take part. We discussed the exhibition with our service users and explained that we needed photos of just their eyes so they wouldn’t be identified, along with a short hand-written piece about their experience.
Straightaway women said they wanted to take part so we supported them in taking their photos and sat with the while they wrote what they wanted to share. There was a clear buzz in our organisation as more women asked if they could take part and the numbers of participants grew bigger and bigger. The women said it built their confidence, made them feel valued and showed them that their experience mattered.
The week before the exhibition opened, a small group of us were at the Georgian House downstairs in the kitchen putting up the photos and narratives from the women who use our services. In total, an amazing 115 women participated. Their stories clearly showed how domestic and sexual violence happens in all walks of life and does not discriminate. The women are young and old from all different cultures and testimonies included mothers and daughters, women who still feel wounded and who are rebuilding both their self-belief and their lives. Our service users thought it was apt that the exhibition was taking place in the kitchen of the Georgian House as so often their abuse happened in their home, behind closed doors.
The exhibition opening in September. On the opening night, PCC Sue Mountstevens and Bristol’s Deputy Mayor Asher Craig spoke passionately about the importance of supporting victims and challenging abuse. I also spoke about how inspired myself and my colleagues are by the women’s courage and compassion as time and time again they said the reason they wanted to tell their story was to help others. The feedback from the first evening from guests really illustrated how impactful the piece is.
Feedback from visitors continued to be powerful. Some visitors have spoken to me about how the women’s stories resonate with their own lives. One older woman said: “there wasn’t any support when I was a victim but I am so glad that my daughters can get help if they need it.” Another said: “I realise after reading these stories that I was a victim too but I didn’t know, it didn’t have a name.” Perhaps the most moving comment was from the woman who said: “the exhibition is saying there is hope for me.”
The specialist phone number we set up as part of the exhibition has taken calls from victims who want to talk about what has happened in their past and some who need help now. Although Arising focuses solely on women’s experiences, we know that men can be victims of domestic and sexual abuse and help is available for them too. The leaflets at the exhibition that had our contact details on and were being replenished all the time as they nearly ran out every day.
The exhibition generated lots of positives; the training of the Georgian House Museum staff proved crucial. One woman directly approached a member of staff in the Bristol Museum and asked for help. Luckily, the staff member happened to be someone we had trained so felt confident in how to respond. This has since prompted the museum to suggest we train all their staff across their sites.
The exhibition was promoted locally, regionally and nationally and has provided us with an amazing opportunity to raise awareness of domestic and sexual abuse, showcase the support we offer and to give a platform to victims whose experiences are so often hidden.
I think the extensive coverage has been in part because giving victims a voice in the art world is new and ‘Arising’ has opened a door to a new audience that is normally off limits.
For the women who took part in the exhibition, their responses have been a mixture of pride, empathy and a strong sense that they are not alone. I hope the exhibition as well as the #BeHeard campaign encourages victims to ask for help.
Find out more about #BeHeard and Safe Link.