Art show aims to empower survivors of sexual violence

By Ashwini Natarajan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 7, 2013

For individuals affected by sexual violence, art is more than a freedom of expression — it’s a helping hand.

It was on this premise that the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center held the closing reception for their eighth annual art show, rEVOLUTION: Making Art for Change, on Friday night. The exhibit, centered on themes of gender, sexism, sexual violence and empowerment, featured pieces of art contributed by SAPAC volunteer programs, University students, members of the Ann Arbor community and regional artists.

Art and Design alum Emily Kripitz, a SAPAC member, initially created the exhibit as her senior project eight years ago in order to artistically express the influence of social justice in the sexual violence movement. SAPAC decided to carry on the legacy and message of the project by making it an annual event.

The Clothesline Project, consisting of t-shirts strung on a clothesline across a wall, was a prominent work at the exhibit. It was started in 1990 to depict sexual violence against women. Men and women survivors of sexual violence, as well as their supporters, decorate a t-shirt with words, phrases and designs.

SAPAC’s Men’s Activism Program also contributed to the show, creating a collage with hundreds of male hands from different backgrounds wearing red bracelets with the words “These Hands Don’t Hurt” printed on them, signifying a pledge to end sexual violence.

LSA senior Ellie Howe, a SAPAC coordinator, said finding a means of expression is an important part of the healing process for survivors.

“From what I’ve seen and talked to survivors, it’s about finding the voice,” Howe said. “But that doesn’t have to be just through words — it can be through expression of all types. And I think that art is a really unique way for survivors to voice their experience in a way that makes sense to them and fits them.”

LSA senior Lauren McIntosh, SAPAC’s Networking, Publishing and Activism program coordinator, also said the creative outlet that art provides is key for ameliorating the situations of survivors as well as supporters.

“It’s a way you can express yourself that you can’t always express in words,” Macintosh said.

Recent LSA graduate Emily Blankenship was one of the featured artists at the event. She volunteered at SAPAC during her senior year and submitted a piece to the 2013 show. This year, she created a piece influenced by the academy-award-nominated documentary, “The Invisible War,” which shows insight into the widespread sexual assault in the military.

Blankenship said she crafted her piece to raise awareness about sexual violence in the military.

“I thought the subject would be really relevant,” she said. “It’s not something that gets enough spotlight, so I thought it was a great opportunity to highlight sexualized violence in the military and kind of a nod towards servicemen and women.”

LSA junior Ashley Rose, a member of SAPAC, said The Clothesline Project was one of her favorite parts of the exhibit. She said the association of clothing with identity really made the message of the project effective.

“When you wear clothing, you wear clothing of a certain type and it's sort of who you are,” Rose said. “Just seeing these t-shirts and all these words that are on it is just part of so many personal experiences, something that they’ve gone through and contributed to who they are.”

Engineering freshman Michael McGahren-Clemens, a member of SAPAC’s Men’s Activism Program, said the exhibit was powerful in how it strove to make issues of sexual violence and assault more conspicuous and relevant.

“It really takes an issue that’s somewhat seen as taboo and brings it out to the open and makes people more aware.”