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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

‘Survivors of Violence’ exhibit joins the Harn Museum for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sponsored by Alachua County Community Services, the art exhibit will be open to the public until April 30

Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art pictured on Sunday, April 21, 2024.
Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art pictured on Sunday, April 21, 2024.

A black-and-white photograph with the caption, “Let’s not make this a big deal,” etched across a nude body; “Embittered Woman” in red paint over police reports; a burnt undergarment over a black canvas. The wall of art on the lower level of the Harn Museum tells 17 stories of six artists’ experience as survivors of violent crimes. 

While conversations around sexual assault can be difficult, art can express what words can’t. Coinciding with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the ‘Survivors of Violence’ exhibit is at the Harn Museum of Art at 3259 Hull Road. 

Since April 2, the museum has served as a sanctuary for survivors' voices, providing a platform for their artwork to be seen, heard and felt by the community. 

Hosted by the Alachua County Community Support Services and the Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center, the exhibit invited survivors of interpersonal violence to contribute original artwork, including performance pieces, as a means of reclaiming their narratives and advocating for change. 

According to data from 2022, the rate per 100,000 of reported sexual assault in Alachua County was 26.2, compared to Florida’s average of 10.3. Alachua County’s rates of domestic violence and rape are among the highest in the state, ranking above larger counties like Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach. More than two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported. 

Cassandra Moore is the project coordinator at the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center. Her job involves promoting awareness about sexual violence and local resources in the community. 

"We have the opportunity to expand our art display for the month of April, and we are grateful for our survivors and community members who share their journey with us," Moore said.

Isabela Estrada is a 22-year-old UF acting senior and one of the exhibit’s artists. She contributed two paintings inspired by her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. 

One of her paintings is titled “Sticks and stones.” Estrada said she experienced the opposite of what the popular euphemism implies, as the stigma and victim-blaming that followed were more difficult for her. 

“The worst part of the assault wasn’t even what was done to my body,” she said. “It was the way I was treated afterwards. The painting is of a rib cage, and written on it are some of the worst things said to me by friends, family, my rapist and even previous partners.”

She said her second painting, “I pray nobody kills me for the crime of being small,” was inspired by a poem she found on X, written from the perspective of a bug begging for its life. She described a roach lying on its back, helplessly stuck between a glass and a tissue. 

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“I have always had a soft spot for bugs, especially those hated a lot like roaches,” she said. “After being assaulted, I was under a lot of scrutiny. I was treated like I was dirty, ugly, gross.”

Estrada said she remembers scooping a bug outside in the same manner as in the painting. In that moment, she said she knew how it felt to be the insect — subjected to mistreatment for the way she was born. She described feeling small after the assault, vulnerable to the actions and decisions of others. 

“Everyone was staring at me through a glass, analyzing me, and my life was in their hands,” she said.  “Would they be kind enough to save me or just crush me? What crime did I commit to be treated this way?”

Of the paintings, she said “Embittered Woman” was the most impactful for her. Composed of police reports and other documents related to the artist’s case against her assailant, it reflects a feeling Estrada said she also experienced. 

“When I first saw it, I started crying,” she said. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been told I’m too bitter about what happened and need to learn to let go and forgive.”

Paige Willis is a 30-year-old community engagement and museum interpretation manager at the Harn. She said she is in charge of physically putting the artwork on the wall for display. 

“There is that collaborative, creative opportunity to take the artist's works, and then to interpret them on the wall, as I feel like is most appropriate or kind of puts those works in a certain spotlight,” Willis said. 

Willis said the most impactful piece for her was the black-and-white nude photographs, which were part of the “Every 68 Seconds Project.” The project is an activist art collective dedicated to bringing awareness to sexual assault, with its name derived from the statistic that every 68 seconds, one person in the United States becomes a victim of sexual violence.  

“(The organization) creates an artistic space for survivors to process and to heal through photography,” she said. “Those works are really meaningful. I feel really honored to have them here at the museum.”

Willis said she has worked with Moore for three years to host exhibits in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

“[The exhibit] has been a really meaningful experience to bring the artists together in the community to offer a safe space to be amongst fellow survivors,” she said. 

The Harn Museum’s “Survivors of Violence” art exhibit will continue until the end of the month. 

Contact Emilia Cardenas-Perez at Follow her on X @emiliaandreaa.

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