Stoning in Syria

PerfectStonefigFive72Possibly lost in the tragic news of the summer was story of two women stoned to death in two days by ISIS in Syria. Working on my series, The Perfect Stone, a few years ago I was struck not only by the horror of the penalty—what does it mean that in the 21st century there are still women being stoned to death—but by the question of what would be necessary to cary out the sentence: a pit would need to be dug, many volunteers would be needed to throw stones, and the right size stones would need to be decided on. This last item,  though chilling, made me think—what is the perfect stone for killing a woman?

I hope the video below, and the visual essay, can serve as a proper memorial to women targeted for honor killings in the 21st century.

 

Amy Lord and the Question of Women’s Safety

Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen

The question of women’s safety has reared its head again. How long will it stay in the news? How long will it be a priority? This week in Boston, Amy Lord, a 2011 college graduate who lived in South Boston was kidnapped and forced to travel to five different automated tellers to withdraw money. When the kidnapper was finished with her, she was stabbed to death and left in the Stony Brook Reservation in the Hyde Park section of Boston. The Boston Globe reports, “In South Boston, fear remained pervasive. At gyms, women asked for self-defense classes, and men volunteered to walk them home. Police said they had added extra patrols, planned to hand out whistles to women Friday afternoon, and announced that they would host self-defense classes.” While it is important for us to reflect in the aftermath of such violence, one wonders what would it have taken to prevent such a terrible crime. Yesterday the papers reported on a discarded plan that would have allowed people using ATM’s to type in a special code that would have slowed down the transaction and alerted the police to trouble while still completing the cash withdrawal. Apparently this is not a new idea and the technology has been around for years. Why hasn’t it happened? Banks have resisted because of cost. How do you measure the cost of a woman’s life? One of their customers was dragged to five different ATM’s and stabbed to death.

 

How do you heal the aftermath of sexual violence?

"I never think of myself as being in danger, I have never been assaulted while getting food, I can't even think of any situation where I was frightened for the safety of my kids." Sara

“I never think of myself as being in danger, I have never been assaulted while getting food, I can’t even think of any situation where I was frightened for the safety of my kids.” Sara

How does someone heal from sexual violence? A recent article from the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/health/therapy-for-rape-victims-shows-promise.html?emc=eta1&_r=0 highlights a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine exploring effectiveness of a new treatment for victims of rape in Congo. The article notes:

Hundreds of thousands of Congolese females, from toddlers to grandmothers — possibly as many as two million, according to one study — have been raped by rebel fighters or government troops. Notoriously brutal attacks have included gang rapes and penetration with guns, knives and other objects that have torn apart women’s reproductive systems and intestines, sometimes beyond repair.

As a daughter, a mother, and a woman, these stories are sadly too familiar. And, at the same time, where I live and work, I am relatively safe. It is this dual connection that I was exploring in the series https://smithgarcesart.com/kindling/.

How different are the concerns of mothers the world over? How different are the needs of families—in cities, villages, refugee camps? Children need care. They must be tended to—fed, clothed, sheltered. These essential truths do not change no matter where you live, or what condition you find yourself in. These are the thoughts which occupied my mind as I took a group of local mothers to collect firewood in the town in which I live, and interviewed them to find out what the essential needs of their families are, and how these needs are met.

Traditionally home is the center of the family, the hearth is the heart of the home, a place where families come together for comfort and warmth. The kindling in these drawings echo this ancient ideal of comfort and security, just as the fragile and unsteady piles of wood echo the vulnerable position of women struggling to sustain their families in the most severe conditions imaginable. These drawings of kindling gathered by individual local mothers, and accompanied by their own quotes obtained in interviews, reveal how universal are the needs of families, just as it made clear how precarious and out of reach these most basic of needs are for hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, and their children, world wide.

 

How safe are the women of the world?

Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen

Has anyone seen the latest episode of PBS’s Frontline called “Outlawed in Pakistan”? It features the story of a brave young woman – really just a girl – 13 year old Kainat Soomro, who takes on law and custom when she accuses four men of gang rape. If you haven’t, I’ve linked to the program here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/outlawed-in-pakistan/.

The show raises many of the questions I was exploring in my series, Is This the Answer https://smithgarcesart.com/is-this-the-answer/

What is the answer to keeping the world’s women and girls safe from physical and sexual abuse? What will it take for our sisters, mothers, and daughters to live in safety without shame?  “Is this the Answer?” reflects on the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse, victim’s internalized feelings of shame, and the failure world wide to provide women and girls with protection and redress. The juxtaposition of these medieval instruments of torture, with western proverbs taken from history, are comments on the continued vulnerability of women in the 21st century. Together the proverbs and images underscore mixed messages that women still struggle to reconcile today.

In the middle ages women could be sentenced to wear shaming devices for being too outspoken, for dressing in a way that was considered shameful, or simply walking in a way that was considered enticing to men. Today, women no longer are sentenced to wear a branks, or mask of shame, but may still be silenced by internalized notions of self-blame. Feelings of guilt are frequent among victims of physical and sexual abuse. Women continue to “Suffer and Be Still”, witnessed by the continued under reporting of rape world wide. Women, young and old, frequently internalize blame in domestic assault cases, insisting that they elicit abuse by provoking their partners or by not being docile enough. The double pillory presented in “It Takes Two to Make a Quarrel”, literally binds both victim and abuser together, making no distinction between them, in much the same way women have been known to make excuses for an abusive partner.

Despite the romanticization of the chastity belt, women who were locked in this devise (“Under Lock and Key”) to maintain their “honor” despite it’s inability to protect, were more often inflicted with physical and emotional pain. Then, as now, women who lose their “purity”, even in cases of rape, can face a punishment of death. A cage or “gibbet, ” like the one featured above, once used to inflict a slow and torturous death, might today be put to better use as a protective devise for a young woman coming of age.

I invite you to share your thoughts.

Call for Participants

Veiled Identity

Veiled Identity Questionnaire Print Version

Veiled IdentityA few years ago while on vacation in Europe, I went to dinner with my husband, walking hand-in-hand on a lovely winding street. The shop keepers we passed on the street were friendly and smiled as we passed. I felt happy and light hearted as we headed to our much anticipated meal. Our spirits were not dampened on our return walk after dinner, despite the rain that had started to fall. I felt proud of my own ingenuity at adapting to the change in weather by tying a scarf on my head. Something had changed though: the shop keepers did not smile at me this time, their smiles were replaced with something else—scowls, angry stares, and flat expressions. One man looked from my face, to the scarf on my head. He took a step toward me, but then seemed to hang back uncertainly when he saw my husband walking briskly beside me. I was relieved when we made it back to the hotel without incident, and I removed the scarf from my head. The scarf in my hand was nothing more than a piece of fabric, and yet it made all the difference in the world to people who knew nothing of me, except that my head was covered.

I am a professional artist, a visual essayist working on editorial images focusing on the effects of social constraints, physical abuse, social injustice, and intolerance on women of varying cultures. Veiled Identity is an art project which seeks to understand what is behind the banning of the headscarf. The news in recent years is full of stories concerning debates throughout Europe about the criminalization of the headscarf. To some, the headscarves are symbol of repression, and banning it’s use is seen as liberating to the wearer. To others, the headscarf is a proud symbol of Muslim identity, and attempts to ban it’s use are rooted in racism. Lost in the debate are the voices of Muslim women, who are seldom asked what wearing the veil, or deciding against wearing the veil, means to them. Is forcing women in a democracy to remove headscarves liberation, or oppression?

I am looking for a number of Muslim women who would be willing to take part in my latest art project, by answering a few questions about issues related to identity and belonging. If participants choose, I am also looking for headscarves to photograph as models for  still lifes. All scarves will be returned upon completion of the drawings. Scarves which you may wish to donate will be exhibited with the drawings at a later date. I’ve posted a questionnaire above for those that are interested in being part of the project. Questionnaires should only take a few minutes to fill out, and will remain anonymous.

My goal is to create an art project that seeks to illuminate and understand these debates over identity. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at ssgdesign@earthlink.net.

Selections

Below are selections from various series that I have developed over the past few years. Use the site navigation to explore the work in depth.