When it comes to sexual abuse, the problem remains: survivors are unable to channel their voice. Fueled by the #MeToo movement, artists and writers collaborate with survivors of sexual assault to produce an art exhibition “House of the Unsilenced” this month. The event is a collaboration of InterSastra, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Indonesian Arts Coalition, and Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum.
“We hope that this event would encourage more voices to come out.,” said Eliza Vitri Handayani, the director and initiator of House of the Unsilenced. “We also want people to be more understanding and mindful about sexual harassment and sexual violence. We want people to realize that, for example, it is not okay to mindlessly touch a certain part of a person’s body, or, in more serious cases, we should not blame and judge survivors of sexual violence.”
Eliza said the art exhibition also aims at challenging the tendency to blame women for wearing certain clothes, going out at certain hours, and being alone in cases of sexual violence.
“We have many collaborators – victim of harassment and sexual abuse – who are hijab-wearer. In other words, clothing is not a relevant explanation of why these women experienced what they experienced. Also, our collaborators are women from age 19 to 53 years old, which means sexual abuse does not exclusively happen to those who are young and sexy,” she added.
Showcased at Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum, the art exhibition features painting, knitting, art installations, writing, collage arts, drawings, art performances and many more.
Understanding the sensitivity of the theme, the exhibition provides psychological first aid for visitors who may be emotionally triggered by the exhibition material, or who suffer a nervous break-down, hysteria or panic attack.
“Every day, we provide volunteers trained by Yayasan Pulih who can give first psychological first aid. They can also refer participants to gain a more professional help at Yayasan Pulih and legal aid at LBH Apik ,” Eliza said. Yayasan Pulih is a non-profit organization that offers psychological counselling, while LBH Apik is the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women's Association for Justice.
The owner of the gallery, well-known writer, activist, and academician Toeti Heraty, said: “This exhibition tells us to not stay silenced. So, what should we do? We can fight back, we can say ‘no’, anything, but for sure, we speak up! I have been around for overs 80 years, and the exact same thing still keeps on happening: women being oppressed, by the system and the society. It all depends on us. We CAN end sexual violence by speaking up.”
Ratu Saraswati (Saras), one of the artists who participates in the event described how House of the Unsilenced has given her a chance to capture the traumatic experience of survivors: “As an artist, I feel like I have the responsibility to help channelling these marginal voices. I have been producing arts but they rarely touch the issue of womanhood. This event allows me to collaborate with a survivor so that I can help her express her struggle and experience.”
“Through our performance, we are going to show how we, as a community, are able to give power to survivors of sexual violence. We believe that the only way to cut off the chain of sexual violence is by fighting back,” said Saras who is an Indonesian Art Award finalist. She has produced many art installations and performed in numerous art exhibition since 2009, including Jakarta Biennale 2017.
Saras prased the exhibition curator, Ika Vantiani, for perfectly matching her with her collaborator. The artists were trained about the ethics of collaborating with survivors of sexual violence, including what should and should not be shared to the audience. She will perform on August 26th at 4 pm.
House of the Unsilenced also features painter Dewi Candraningrum, filmmaker Dyantini Adeline, artist Salima Hakim (lecturer and artist, whose work was included in Jogja Artweeks), dancer Ningrum Syaukat, and rapper Yacko.
The exhibition is free and open for public until September 2nd at Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum at Jalan HOS Cokroaminoto 9-11, Jakarta.
Read about the importance of involving women in policy making and peace making.