MFA, Thoughts & Exploration

Identity as a Survivor: Trauma, Memory & Therapy

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Words of encouragement in my takeaway from a Break the Silence event earlier this year.

Heading into vital time for my graduate studies in between semesters this summer, I was at a point of conflict with my practice:  how to respond to the urgency and pervasiveness of sexual assault in the United States and what material form, if any, would it take?

Although there was a definite progression in the participatory work I had made thus far both inside and outside the program, I found myself disappearing from the work. In an attempt to find the balance between audience comprehension, agency, and self reflection with my own story and relevance as a survivor, I made it the subject of my last paper entitled, Rape Culture in Participatory Work: Maintaining Identity while Communicating with a Broad Audience. To rationalize maintaining an identity in my work, I briefly analyzed critiques and ethics of participatory work, reviewed current statistics of sexual assault in the United States, reflected on quotes from Foucault and Butler on power and sexuality, and finally, to tie it back into material considerations, I looked at the work of Wangechi Mutu and Tracey Emin. The paper itself convincingly says, yes, my identity matters in the relevance and comprehension of the works and concludes with
“The question then is not how I can engage an audience through my material choices, but what materials are most appropriate, as rooted in my experience as a survivor and for audience comprehension?”

The urgency, from reading articles, dissecting polarized responses, and being a part of a local survivor community, helped me realize that enough was enough for my situation. I no longer wanted my life to be run by fear, anxiety, and depression due to being sexually assaulted. Whereas for a long time I was able to suppress these barriers through an emotional numbing, dissociation, and self-medication, everything became completely overwhelming in the last few months. Thus, I’ve made major choices to help myself heal – through medication and a commitment to at least six months of therapy every week.

As so many others seek to reclaim their mind and body from trauma and oppression, I have begun documenting objects that I’ve kept through many states and many moves in my lifetime. More often than not, these objects are stand ins for people who are no longer in my life or I have kept at a distance because of my rape. They are records of a time that I can no longer identity with, however are integral to finding my place now.

Trauma is linked to memory loss and the distortion of reality.  

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A shot of me from high school where I had many misconceptions about relationship roles, sexuality, and self, not long before I was assaulted.

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It’s difficult for me to see these photos from my childhood, where my sisters and I would be dressed up; for me, like a fantasy or sexual object.

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MCAD Life, MFA Semester 1

Semester 1 @ MCAD + MnArtists

Graduate school has been an intense catalyst for realizing and imagining new goals that harness every part of myself.

Rigid connectors and knots that shape my philosophies function equally with the fragile threads of new experiences in Minneapolis.

As I focus on sexual violence and ask many questions about the concept of rape culture in the United States, I’ve challenged my methodologies and my media toward these goals:

Community
Communication
Education

For my final critique of the semester, I presented a soft sculpture on the floor in the corner of our gallery along with a stack of papers for each of my peers that read:

“As a survivor of sexual violence, it has been difficult to rediscover the integral connection between myself and my own sexuality, both physically and mentally.  Over time, I have tried to bridge this disconnect by reflecting on past experiences that shaped my own sex education and bodily associations.

This ongoing project functions as a timeline; a record of experiences that shaped who I was before being assaulted and the cyclical mental and corporeal identifications that have resulted.

I invite you to work together to untangle these experiences in order to arrive at a “truth” or understanding of the complexities of identity shaped through my experience with sex and constructed sexuality.”

For the following five minutes, everyone worked together in silence to unravel the piece below.

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Untitled (Sexuality as Identity)

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I will continue to build onto this piece while thinking of how this and other future pieces can give others the strength to communicate, can fuel face-to-face conversations, and help people understand the complexities and consequences of placing all of the responsibility on the victim.

*As my practice grows and changes, I will be housing graduate projects at MnArtists.org/hrpeebles. Keep an eye on the site as I explore participatory art while challenging the visual vocabulary in my paintings.

Thank you for continued support.

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