Picture a woman. She is living in fear. Every breath of every second of every minute of every day, she lives in fear of the person she loves.
She is filled with hope; she is filled with despair – a seesaw of emotion that accompanies the bruises, the burns, and the scars to her body…to her heart. One day she finally finds the courage to walk through the door, taking with her only a suitcase filled with years of living.
In 2004, I was asked to participate in a documentary and share my experiences within a lesbian battering relationship as well as create art on film.
The documentary fell through but I completed my part of the project – a
7’ tall, 164 lb., interactive, traveling art exhibit entitled “A Woman’s Journey from Domestic Violence Victim to Survivor,” constructed to encourage thought and action as people go about their daily activities.
In Michigan, it has been displayed in several diverse publicly accessible locations such as a coffee shop, City Hall, university campuses, the State Capitol, a Judge’s courtroom, a gay and lesbian community center, and a local hospital.
The exhibit is meant to be touched and accessible to the viewing public. Observers are encouraged to “take the journey” and walk through the door, open the suitcases, look at the contents.
The suitcase symbolizes the life of the woman traveling from victimization to freedom from an abusive relationship. She may have finally broken free from the past, but the memories will always be with her.
Survivors are invited to sign the back of the door.
I believe art has the power to foster change and this piece has accomplished more than I could have imagined over the past several years.
A university put together an open event to begin a dialogue on ways a community can take action.
A men’s group organized an event to discuss men’s roles in ending violence.
A woman was compelled to begin an animal foster care program after she read a statement on the door about a family pet being harmed to control a victim.
Another woman had her picture taken walking through the door and sent it to her best friend as a sign for her to leave her own abusive relationship.
A domestic violence victim contacted her local domestic violence agency for services after seeing the exhibit at a local coffee shop.
Several eighth grade boys wrote heart warming letters about being positively affected by viewing the door during a class trip - one boy wrote, “The door in the art gallery moved me and touched my heart. The way the men were treating these women was devastating. It made me want to help these women and more women who are having trouble like that.”
People ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” As a survivor of domestic violence, I have felt the fear, the sadness, and the confusion of being in an abusive relationship. She doesn’t leave because she is in love. She is scared. She may think she has nowhere to go. There are all kinds of reasons.
The question we should ask is,
“ What can I do to help bring an
end to domestic violence in my community?”
Too often, domestic violence is kept behind a closed door.
It is time we open the door.
I would like to share a comment I received from someone who saw the door online and posted her response…
“ For me, having been at that door, being so utterly worn down and petrified of even looking at it, never mind contemplating stepping through it, says so much.
All the expressions around it as to why things were so bad, why I felt torn leaving someone I’d once loved but who’d hurt me so horribly, the suitcase of tattered dreams and broken promises, the suitcase of I owe it to myself to make some better dreams (even if the old ones will be with me in memory) and the glimpse of a better tomorrow, a better today- I feel that.
So, It’s just a door, step right through and you’ll be away from here. If you’ve been there you know it’s so much more than that.”
Through art, I hope to continue to educate communities, encourage dialogue, motivate others and validate others’ experiences. My goal is to increase visibility and inspire communities to take action. Just as the title refers to a woman’s journey, the art exhibit is taking its own journey and hopefully inspiring others to join in. I am honored that it is a part of other people’s journeys.
Thanks to the generosity of Gift from Within , The Door has an online home at www.giftfromwithin.org . It has reached people in over 23 states and five countries.