The new Society for Contemporary Craft (www.contemporarycraft.org) exhibit, ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out, which opened Sept. 25, is not only bringing emotional and thought-provoking art to their Strip gallery but has brought community groups and victims of violence together to explore the powers of art – and the roots and solutions to violence.
The exhibit, which features sculptures and jewelry made from gun parts, figures of toddlers placed in violent situations normally perpetrated by adults, and a display of damaged doll dresses representing the victims of domestic violence, may prompt strong reactions at times, says the Society's Executive Director Janet McCall: "We're hearing from people that it's a hard show to take in. But it's an important message. We're glad we've done the show. It is opening up a lot of conversations. We're seeing a lot of people walking in the door who have never been here.
"For a lot of people, they feel so helpless and overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem," she adds. But she hopes the exhibit creates an occasion for getting at the root causes of violence, which may lead to concrete ideas for solutions.
McCall has already heard from local anti-violence groups that want to get involved in prompting further public discussion and action, and the Society has opened the door wide for such partnerships.
Artists involved with ENOUGH Violence have already been working with children with disabilities and those in schools and Allegheny County's Shuman Juvenile Detention Center to create their own artistic responses to living with violence. This month, fabric artist Tina Brewer will be working with RELIEF
(Recognizing Every Lingering Inward Emotional Feeling) in McKeesport, a group that helps those who have lost a family member to violence. The group will use materials significant to their loved one to construct fabric vessels – collapsible boxes that will store memories and that can be connected to one another – to help with group members' healing. They will be displayed beginning in November as part of ENOUGH Violence.
For the first Saturday of each month, the Society has invited local anti-violence groups to be available to talk to gallery patrons. They are also bringing in speakers, including:
- October 18: Dr. Norman White of Saint Louis University will speak about street violence and Dr. Rolf Loeber, of the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine will talk about his decades-long study of anti-social and delinquent behavior risk factors in young boys and girls.
- January 10, 2014: Dr. Judy Chang, also from Pitt's medical school, will give a talk on domestic violence and photographer Maria Montano will speak about her FACES project, for which she has taken 200 portraits of sexual-assault survivors.
- January 20, 2014: Prof. Steve Gorelick of Hunter College will speak on violence in media and culture.
- March 21, 2014: Dr. Ronald E. Voorhees of Carlow University will lead an informal discussion on the public health response to abuse and neglect.
"There are so many people who are in the community, particularly young people, who need help and don't even now there is help available," says Rachel Saul, the Society's studio program coordinator. Art, she adds, can be one place that generates understanding and healing. Artist Julie Sirek, who created the current exhibit's wall of identical white doll dresses that have been dirtied and damaged in various ways, says in her artist's statement that she witnessed domestic violence as a small child.
"What she learned was that she was never supposed to speak of it," Saul says. "She had to stuff away her feelings." Making the dresses has been a release for her, Saul adds, as viewing the art or making one's own pieces can be a release for anyone. Such work sends a message, Saul says: "This is not okay, and anyone who has had this experience must know that there is help out there, there are support services …"
Victims of violence, McCall says, are constantly reliving the moment of fear and experiencing the same feelings. "You need a process – something to help work through the emotion. I think art, for me, is always a therapeutic process. Even if you are not talking about it, the process allows you to visualize it … and let go of the feelings."
ENOUGH Violence even suggests ways for people to help the situation: volunteering at homeless shelters, getting involved politically for gun control, mentoring at-risk youth. "We hope," McCall concludes, "that for the groups who have come together, that we've connected, it won't be a one-time thing."
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Janet McCall and Rachel Saul, Society for Contemporary Craft