Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grace Brown's 'Project Unbreakable'

I've written a number of posts about the use of art to help heal, most recently about Brian McCarty's War-Toys Project. Today I want you to know about an online project begun last fall by New York-based photographer Grace Brown: "Project Unbreakable: The Beginning of Healing Through Art".

For Project Unbreakable, Brown, a college student, invites victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence and abuse to write a quote from their attacker on a large piece of poster board and to then be photographed holding up the quote. Yvonne Moss, a rape survivor and advocate for sexual abuse victims and one of the women Brown has photographed, states on Brown's site that the project is "a way for victims to take the power back of the words that were once used against them."

To date, traveling between New York City, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., Brown has collected the stories of more than two dozen people who have learned of her project and arranged to be photographed. As word of the initiative has spread — via such writers as Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing, blogs such as Feminist Philosophers and Writing for Recovery, Max Turk Wellness, and this recent photo feature and this article in The Guardian — Brown has begun receiving scores of e-mails weekly from people all over the world who want to share their stories but are too far away to be photographed by Brown. (Brown's Tumblr site includes submissions as well as her own photographs. If you've experienced sexual violence and want to participate in the project by posting your own submission or being photographed, you may reach Brown at grace[at]50extraordinarywomen[dot]com.)

What seems to make Project Unbreakable work is the sense of empowerment afforded the women and girls (one submission to Brown came from a 13-year-old) once they are able to "speak out" through attackers' own words, which range from the threatening to the manipulative. In some of Brown's photos, the subjects allow their faces to be seen; in others, they place their poster so that it both hides and reveals. The former images are striking for the steadied, straight-on gazes that hold the viewer's eyes and communicate the bold message, "Look at me! You didn't silence me! I survived!" The freedom from the pain and shame comes in letting go of the words that abusers left behind, no longer keeping them, and the experience they relate, secret. It comes from the camaraderie created when many voices are raised at once. It comes with an image that functions as a signal of hope that no one so harmed must remain in the dark.

A Project Unbreakable photo day in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for March 3.

Also Of Interest

Grace Brown's own story is told here.

Project Unbreakable on FaceBook and Twitter

The video below, made and narrated by Brown, features snippets of some of the stories of abuse survivors:

Break the Silence at Vassar is a project of Vassar College students who are seeking to raise awareness of and prevent "personal violation" by collecting and sharing others' stories.

Bead Program of Emerge, a nonprofit that provides a means to enable young women in Sri Lanka who have experienced rape or incest to express themselves creatively through jewelry-making while learning financial skills to become self-supportive.

Joyful Heart Foundation, which seeks to educate and heal survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence,  and child abuse through retreat and wellness programs, national awareness campaigns, and therapeutic projects that include creative arts therapies.

Just Tell, a nonprofit that promotes awareness of childhood sexual abuse.


Laura said...

Oh, Maureen, this is exceptional. Very moved by this project. I am forwarding this post on to some friend also. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

a gathering of understanding voices. interesting how things look different when they become a collection of the similar. it takes on a totally different presence.

S. Etole said...

Heart-rending ...

Louise Gallagher said...

This is fabulous Maureen. I am so grateful you brought this here for me to see -- and others too!

Thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for considering Grace's project worth blogging about.
I love your quote "It comes from the camaraderie created when many voices are raised at once. It comes with an image that functions as a signal of hope that no one so harmed must remain in the dark." I think it's high time that victims gather together as one united front, no longer stuck in shame because they know that shame should go to the abuser. A growing power that might just make the next possible abuser stop to think "hey, if they will do this, then maybe they will actually report me" and save their sexual urges for someone who wants to have sex with them.