Confronting Evil in Individuals and Societies.

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I am honored to have had the video from my series The Perfect Stone selected to open Facing History and Ourselves Day of Learning Confronting Evil in Individuals and Socities at Harvard University yesterday. The conference was stunning with presentations by a wide range of scholars from across the disciplines including Anthony Appiah, Elaine Pagels, and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo as well as Jill Medvedow, the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. While I don’t have a photo of the film at the conference, here is a picture of the video on Facing History’s twitter feed.

Each presentation added to a layered picture of Evil as well as the challenges and opportunities we face if we hope to prevent mass violence and cultivate the next generation of thoughtful, engaged citizens. A particular focus was the translation of the work of scholars into resources and practices for schools
. Hopefully the video can be useful in the classroom. If any of you are educators, I would love to hear what you think.

In the meantime, I will share videos from the conference as they become available.

The Invisible Woman

Black PearlsHave you seen Ralph Fiennes’ powerful new film The Invisible Woman about Charles Dickens and his lover Ellen “Nelly” Ternan? Based on real life events, the film is beautifully acted by Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristen Scott Thomas, and others including Joanna Scalan as Catherine Dicken’s (Mrs. Charles Dickens). The film can be seen as a powerful meditation on the role of women in Victorian society. Without giving too much away, it is worth thinking about who exactly is “The Invisible Woman” in the story. The art direction and cinematography reminded me of Black Pearls, a drawing I did years ago based on an 1862 century photograph by the French photographer Onésipe Aguado titled “Woman Seen From the Back.” The drawing is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I first saw it in the wonderful photography show The Waking Dream: Photography’s First Century: Selections from the Gilman Paper Company CollectionThe links above take you to interesting commentary on the image from the Met’s site as well as a link to the show’s catalogue. Onesipe-aguado-woman-seen-from-back

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.

Welcome

Untitled-1 copyMy drawings are an attempt to change the realm in which violence and intolerance are viewed—from often private stories to something for all of us to look at publicly. My current work consists of editorial images focusing on the effects of social constraints, physical abuse, social injustice, and intolerance on women of varying cultures.

As an artist, I love the flexibility and delicacy of graphite and charcoal as I work on these images. The drawings subtlety invite intimacy while the stories themselves can be disturbing. These visual essays are an attempt to recreate for the observer my own experience of dismay over the continued vulnerability of women in the 21st century. These series reflect my own struggle to understand what is senseless, while hoping to raise awareness for the viewer, through the use of sequential images, visual storytelling, and first person testimony.

You will find artist statements and samples of my work in the portfolio section. Off the navigation bar in the the portfolio section, I have uploaded several images from a recent show to give you some sense of what they look like when exhibited. I am eager to hear what you think and am always open to suggestions about where I might share my work. Please be in touch.

Sandy