Testify: An Art Project

This semester, in order to fulfill a final requirement at my university, I enrolled in a class on the philosophy of art.  As part of the course, I had to complete and analyze an art project of my own.  I chose to photograph graffiti appearing on the sexual assault information stickers in women’s bathrooms on campus.  I know it may seem odd to have photographed the insides of these bathroom stalls, but I was touched by the use of the stickers to allow individuals to reach out to each other to testify, provide support, and create an invisible, anonymous community of survivors at American University.  I hope they’ll speak to you as they’ve spoken to me.

TW: Some of these images may include testimony that could be triggering for readers.

The first several images were collected from various buildings (and various bathrooms) on campus.

Text: [1] I will always believe you [2] I was raped last week. The DC SANE Program was so helpful, if something happens to you, GO

Text: [1] I will always believe you
[2] I was raped last week. The DC SANE Program was so helpful, if something happens to you, GO

Text: "I will always believe in you"

Text: “I will always believe in you

Text: “You are brave, you are strong, you are not alone.” “It is not your fault”

Text: “You are brave, you are strong, you are not alone.”
“It is not your fault”

Text: "You are not alone"

Text: “You are not alone”

survivor sticker 7

The next three photos were taken in sequence.  They track the changes made to a particular sticker over the course of several weeks.  Almost every new addition hit me like a wave of emotion.  In the captions, I include the text in the order in which it was added.  It is numbered accordingly and grows from photo to photo.

Text: [1] “I didn’t report it. I regret it every day.” [2] “There’s still time. You are strong and powerful” [3] “You did what was best for you at the time. Healing takes time.”

Text: [1] “I didn’t report it. I regret it every day.”
[2] “There’s still time. You are strong and powerful”
[3] “You did what was best for you at the time. Healing takes time.”

A week and a half later, the following was added:

[4]” It’s not your fault or responsibility to report it.  It’s the aggressor’s fault for hurting you.” [5] “Go see Daniel Rappaport at the Wellness Center. He’s amazing!” [6]” I’m so sorry this happened love…By reporting it here you are empowering others to come forward. You are strong”

[4]” It’s not your fault or responsibility to report it. It’s the aggressor’s fault for hurting you.”
[5] “Go see Daniel Rappaport at the Wellness Center. He’s amazing!”
[6]” I’m so sorry this happened love…By reporting it here you are empowering others to come forward. You are strong”

The following photo was taken on December 4, 2013, at the conclusion of the project:

[7] “I didn’t report it either but I told someone and I swear, it helps.  Remember, you are a survivor and no one can take that away from you.” [8] “I was afraid of being labeled ‘victim’ so I said nothing. That guy did it to someone else”

[7] “I didn’t report it either but I told someone and I swear, it helps. Remember, you are a survivor and no one can take that away from you.”
[8] “I was afraid of being labeled ‘victim’ so I said nothing. That guy did it to someone else”

This is what solidarity looks like.  It looks like a safe space, even in an unlikely and unconventional space.  It looks like words of kindness and support, from total strangers, with no expectation of credit or thanks.  It looks like free advice, for those who might be standing where others have stood.  When I told people that my project was on bathroom graffiti, they laughed, or looked skeptical.  When I told them that it was about this, they were surprised and intrigued…because while it may seem a little odd, the writing on these stickers gave survivors a chance to come together, and to offer each other an implicit message that some said explicitly: that they are not alone.  That others have survived, and that they will too.

That’s a message worth reading, no matter where it’s scribbled.

But take a look at the testimonies on these stickers, because this is what American culture looks like, regarding rape.  Yes, there are pockets of support, and that’s a beautiful thing.  But if survivors need anonymity to testify, then the problem can never truly be confronted.  The very last post chilled me when I read it: “I was afraid of being labeled ‘victim’, so I stayed silent.  That guy did it to someone else”.  Survivors need support, not only in those quiet moments, but in claiming status as survivors.  As a society, we have come so far, but have so far to go with regards to how we view and treat survivors of sexual assault and other gender based violence.  If nothing else, these stickers are testimony to the quiet battles already being fought, and to the need to give survivors more safe spaces, more resources, more opportunities to reclaim themselves and to confront what has happened, when they are ready to do so.

As part of the project, I also wrote a spoken word poem under the same title, “Testify”.  I won’t include the whole thing here, but the following is an excerpt.  I’ll leave you with this:

Injunctions for saying

The name of a perpetrator

Videos on the internet

As these boys just violate her

And houses of victims

Are being burned to the ground

While we tell offenders it’s okay

And no one thinks that’s upside down?

Telling victims suck it up

Telling women it’s on them

Because they wore the clothes

We sell in stores

No accountability for men

<>

I’m hearing boys will be boys

Like that’s some kind of excuse

Like women need to laugh

And pretend we’re cool with abuse

So you all can point later

And say we should have left

When did you say they were wrong?

Come on tell me, I forget

No

<>

This makes no sense

But we hear it every day

Bitch slut whore skank

But hold up

-Cause you can’t ask to be raped

No

Thanks to everyone who has supported me while I’ve worked on this project-~-it has been, at times, frustrating, inspiring, triggering, and interesting, and I appreciate those who took the time to listen to me ramble about it.  To any survivors who may be reading this: these posts are not wrong.  You are not alone, and though healing takes time, you’re already a survivor.  That’s one heck of a start.

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~ by Randi Saunders on December 5, 2013.

One Response to “Testify: An Art Project”

  1. Incredibly powerful. Thanks for sharing!

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