Visual and written art expressions created by about 45 University of Michigan students and faculty were displayed in Rackham Graduate School Friday evening for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s art exhibition “rEVOLUTION: Making Art for Change.”
The event was founded by a former SAPAC volunteer in 2006 as part of her senior honors thesis. Years later, SAPAC’s Survivor Empowerment and Ally Support Program continues to organize the art show as a platform for the University community to address issues including sexual violence, gender and sexism.
The SEAS Program is one of the three volunteer groups housed within SAPAC. SEAS focuses efforts on educating the community on prevention, self-care and how to be supportive of sexual violence survivors. SEAS hosts two large public events each academic year, including Speak Out in the fall term and the rEVOLUTION exhibition in the spring.
The SEAS planning committee approached this year’s rEVOLUTION theme with the idea of growth and intertwined with the underlying goals of the healing process, including emotional stability and healthy relationships.
LSA seniors Nora Akcasu and Yong-Joon Kim, co-coordinators for the SEAS Program, both emphasized how the art show is a safe space for healing and empowerment.
According to Akcasu, rEVOLUTION compliments the goals of the Speak Out, but offers a different approach toward creating a healing environment.
“With rEV, through art and artistic expression, it is a different mode for people to express their feelings and process complex emotions,” Akcasu said. “I think for some people, the speaking process, verbally telling your stories, can be really powerful. But, for other people, that might not be the most effective way to process their feelings and art can be really good way for people to do that.”
Kim echoed Akcasu and noted how the diversity of artwork matches the many unique ways survivors heal from sexual violence.
“Art is a way for individuals to put what they have experienced — something so abstract and complicated in their lives — into a physical form that might not be possible through any other medium or mode,” Kim said.
LSA junior Sarah Saks-Fithian had artwork displayed at the exhibition. She submitted three ceramic vessels titled “Goddesses” representing the beauty of the female form. The three vessels displayed were part of a larger collection on which Saks-Fithian is currently working.
“I titled the pieces ‘Goddesses’ because I think about them as goddesses,” Saks-Fithian said. “They are very curvy and it was really important to me to make them have stretch marks and uneven breasts — one of them is actually modeled after my body.”
When creating the piece, Saks-Fithian grappled with the objectification of women portrayed in the media. She noted her choice to sculpt the female form as a vessel was inspired by the sexualization of women’s bodies in the media, which creates the perception that women are objects rather than humans.
“It was really important to me to be portraying the female body as something that is beautiful and incredibly worthy of awe, without it being overtly sexual,” Saks-Fithian said.
Rackham student Laura Sinko attended the exhibition and admitted while the artwork intrinsically embodies heavy topics, there was also a sentiment of beauty.
“I think it was really beautiful,” Sinko said. “It is cool to see how people heal in different ways and use different mediums to express their healing. Some of it was a little bit dark and can feel overwhelming, but I think that is the nature of what this event is about. As much as people are healing, it is definitely something that they struggle with and work through on a daily basis, so it was rightfully dark and light.”
LSA sophomore Evan Stuber, an organizer of the rEVOLUTION event, echoed the idea that the exhibition addresses the heavy topic of sexual violence and welcomes an audience of the University community who perhaps do not normally “want to think about” sexual violence.
“Something that is really important when we are thinking about this is that it is creating beauty,” Stuber said. “It is creating beauty out of something that isn’t necessarily a thing that people want to think about … so this is a way to bridge the gap and bring beauty into that darker place.”