When I was 12 years old I didn't tell anyone because I thought it was my fault and because I didn't think anyone would believe me. Of course, there was no one who could corroborate my story. Years later, I got the message loud and clear. Today, 64 years later, I got the message loud and clear. Today, nobody would believe me, or if they did, they wouldn't care.
83 year old woman (October 6, 2018 )
During the Senate's Supreme Court's confirmation hearings I started reading through my Twitter feed as #believeher started trending. The above quote was the one that stopped me in my tracks. In 2016, before #metoo I completed a series of paintings and conceptual pieces, Terrible Beauty, based on my own childhood experience of sexual assault. Like countless survivors, 30 years passed until I told anyone. As I went through the other comments on Twitter I came across another that hit me equally as hard. A young women railed against those who came forward so many years later, not understanding why something that happened so long ago had any impact on them now. Her final advice, Just get over it and move on. I am guessing that this young woman has not have the same experience and given that one in five women in this country have been raped and one in three have experienced some form of contact sexual violence the odds are pretty great that she may have survivors in silence in her life.
As I took in all that transpired over the last few weeks I kept coming back to the hard reality that women have not been believed and in many cases have dealt with the destructive and life changing aftermath of sexual assault alone and in their own way. In my mind, the work I did for Terrible Beauty was not only hugely cathartic, but in the end was more about the effects of those years of silence as much as the event itself. The painting Fear was My Imaginary Friend, summed it up best for me, An undercurrent of fear was always present, its tentacles reaching all parts of me, affecting every decision and idea about myself. I thought about the 83 year old women on Twitter and wondered what her silence and the festering of this most intimate of wounds would have cost her throughout her lifetime.
In my studio, I had just hung a 60"x60" blank canvas, gessoed and prepped for a new painting. The plan was to paint several figures since I have just recently returned to painting with oils after a 4 year journey with mixed media. I intended that this canvas would be completely experimental to "move the paint around" and to not get fussy about the outcome. Instead, I couldn't seem to help myself as I imagined this 83 year old woman. Her narrative emerged; the girl, the woman and the witness, leaving it for the viewer to fill in the blanks. Its titled, She's Come Undone. In the end, I am hopeful that we as a country will one day look back at this painful moment in history and recognize it as the moment of pivot for things to start changing, a time when women will be believed.