This semester, Ohio University is offering a survivor-centered arts exhibit that centralizes survivor experiences in relation to interpersonal violence. The exhibit is called “In This Space: Disrupted,” and it features 14 banners created by 12 survivors and two co-survivors who have demonstrated their experiences through these artistic creations that represent the idea of “spaces” — both of violence and of healing. 

The exhibit, which was intended for fall 2020 is being re-shown due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be on display for in-person viewing through Sept. 18 at the Trisolini Gallery. 

The exhibit is sponsored by the Women’s Center, Survivor Advocacy Program, Health Promotion, OU Art Galleries, Ohio Women and OU Alumni Association and supported by Counseling and Psychological Services. 

M. Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, said the goal of the exhibit is to disrupt the notion that there is a fixedness in regards to where interpersonal violence occurs, and who perpetrates that violence.

“I think a lot of media representations that we see and what gets represented in the news is a stranger danger sort of thing,” Murray said. “And while that certainly is true, nine out of 10 times, a survivor of rape knows their perpetrator. We wanted to call into question some of the tropes that we hear, like ‘you should always walk with friends’. Well, what happens if your friend is the perpetrator? It creates this notion that there are things that you can do to protect oneself. It’s really important that we not give an illusion that there's something that a survivor could have done right, in order to protect themselves, because that can be really traumatizing. The exhibit is really about challenging a singular narrative and helping people to see what happens in private and public.” 

Kimberly Rouse, director of the Survivor Advocacy Program, described the prompts given to the participants that inspired the work they created through the various banners present in the gallery. 

“If you visit the gallery, you'll see large panels that were created by the survivor participants, given different prompts,” Rouse said. “They chose which prompt they wanted to use, whether that was related to holding space, or physical space where something happened. And you can see those prompts on the top of the panel. So, where did your experience of interpersonal violence occur? What physical space was it? Or, what spaces have been re-traumatizing you? And if you could claim space as your own, what space would you make for your own survival? And then also, how do you dedicate yourself to holding space for survivors? We have a variety of different things building off of this theme of space.”

The participants were invited to explore their creativity and demonstrate these spaces in whatever capacity they desired — utilizing embroidery, paint and collages to represent their perception of the prompts. 

Sarah Liese, a second year master's student studying journalism, said participants could create banners surrounding a particular issue related to interpersonal violence. This is the path Liese chose to take.

“I am highlighting an issue that is prevalent to Native American communities,” Liese said. “I'm not a survivor myself, but I'm here to showcase on my banner this issue to raise awareness, so it stops happening — so less Native women are harmed or that face violence. (This exhibit is intended) to raise awareness. I know, at least in my case, I'm at more peace knowing that I'm able to spread this issue and tell more people about it.”

Taylor Linzinmeir, a senior studying journalism, said the exhibit is significant in that it aims to dismantle stigmas associated with sexual violence through artistic means. 

“I think these survivor-focused art exhibits that the Women's Center does every year are really important because of the fact that they really showcase how different and multifaceted everyone's experiences are with their own survivorhood,” Linzinmeir said. “I think our society likes to perpetuate this idea that there's only one way to be a survivor. That can be super disheartening for people who do identify as survivors and those who don't even identify as survivors but have experienced something traumatic, like sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. I think it's important to showcase the diversity of experiences. Art is a really beautiful way to do it because it's very visual and it's very visceral.”

The visual aspect of the project, Linzinmeir said, allows for survivors to feel a sense of security and empowerment whilst sharing vulnerable experiences. 

“I identify as a survivor and as an artist, and so it's sometimes easier for me to put things down on a big banner with paints and different stuff like that than to talk about my experience or explain it to others,” Linzinmeir said. “Sometimes, an art piece can do all the talking for you.”

On Sept. 8, there will be a gallery reception held at the exhibit. There will be speeches from the participants and also from President Hugh Sherman. 

Murray said the interactive elements of the exhibit allow for visitors to provide empathy, support and suggestions for ways the community can better serve survivors.

“There is an opportunity for visitors to the gallery to write on slips of fabric that are actually the same fabric that the banners were created out of,” Murray said. “(These can be) words of support and affirmation and what we as individuals can do to improve our community so that we're really challenging acts of interpersonal violence before they happen.”

Through engaging with the exhibit, Rouse said community members can offer a step toward progress in the way that sexual violence is discussed. 

“It gives the community a way to engage with survivor stories and learn about these experiences in a way that they might not have ever thought about before,” Rouse said. “When you walk through the gallery, and you see these things, it's hard not to build empathy for the things that these participants have experienced in the way that it's impacted their life. If we can invite people in and they can build empathy and understanding for the survivor experience and learn more about how this sexual violence epidemic impacts all of us, and how rape culture is pervasive throughout our community and throughout our country and our world, we can make, albeit possibly small impact, but be helpful in that manner.”

Through this exhibit, Murray hopes new students will recognize the resources provided to students on campus and challenge the present perceptions of sexual violence to gravely reduce the statistics. Murray said she hopes students know OU is a campus that honors survivors’ voices.

“Universities across this nation right now are going through what we know of as the ‘red zone’, which is this time on college campuses, where we see an increased rate of sexual violence,” Murray said. “So, when students are coming to campus, we want them to feel the connection with these survivor-centered exhibits, to know that they're not alone.”