HOUSE OF THE UNSILENCED: ART FOR HEALING

Story By
Stephanie Mamonto

Carrying the spirit of #MeToo, artists and writers have collaborated with sexual assault survivors to produce new works about a survivors' life and what it means to speak up.

Photos by : House of the Unsilenced

Entering the main exhibition hall at the Cemara 6 Gallery-Museum, you could see the grand, six-sided mirrors with three speakers attached to each side. The speakers were not the same height, telling stories and experiences of each survivor, while the audience had to gaze deep into themselves in the mirror. Dyantini Adeline’s “She hears, see here” asked the audience to listen to the survivors through each speaker, that had been intentionally installed according to the height of each survivor –suggesting that the act of listening is much more important than simply hearing, considering the fact that survivors always find it hard to speak up about their experiences.

Sexual violence is something that can be experienced by anyone. It is not only limited to a person’s age, gender, or appearance. In fact, many of us have experienced this, but very few have ever dared to speak about it, and even fewer want to listen. This work set the room for these brave voices and celebrates the survivors for their courage in sharing the sexual violence they have experienced. “In the end, the audience is expected to be able to listen and reflect on the stories they hear,” said Dyantini Adeline, artist and filmmaker who has presented her works at Berlinale and Jakarta Biennale.

The sound and mixed media installation was one of the artworks on display at House of the Unsilenced, an art project curated by Ika Vantiani. It is part of the 2018 Creative Freedom Festival organized by InterSastra, in collaboration with the Norwegian Embassy and Indonesian Art Coalition and was held from the 15th August to the 2nd September at Cemara 6 Gallery-Museum, Menteng.

Other refreshing work included Farul Piliang’s “Jangan Sebut Saja Namaku dengan ‘Bunga’ (Don’t Refer to Me as ‘Flower’)”, crocheted flowers arranged beautifully with printed headlines referring to sexual assault victims as ‘Bunga (Flower)’, which denoted a figure of them as ‘delicate and seductive’, on several canvases. This referral is common practice in Indonesian media.

Farul Piliang, a pharmacist who also engages in knitting-craft, said he was happy to participate in events with equality and humanity as the main theme. His artwork was an expression of silence in parable forms that are often used by media for sexual assault victims in the news they publish, both in print and online. Farul, who made the art collaboration of dozens crocheted flowers with three survivors, explained “Referring to the victim’s as ‘flower’ not only has a connotative meaning, but it tends to be a mockery, even if the name is believed to be a prayer from parents for their children,”

The art event featured various other artists and writers, such as Dewi Candraningrum (well-known lecturer and painter), Ratu Saraswati (art performer and Indonesian Art Award finalist), Molly Crabapple (award-winning artist and writer, whose art is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York), Salima Hakim (lecturer and artist, whose work was included in Jogja Artweeks), Yacko (rapper, who launched her newest single “FYBV” at House of The Unsilenced), Ningrum Syaukat (dancer, personal trainer, stage acting coach).

Many survivors in Indonesia, the majority of whom are women, still find it very difficult to break their silence. Communities often stigmatize and punish victims of sexual violence, and excuse perpetrators' actions. The social purpose of this art event was to increase public awareness about the nature and effect of sexual violence, conveyed through the survivors' expressions and creations. “We imagine a safe space and strong support for survivors who want to tell their stories, a place where they can explore various possibilities to express themselves," said Eliza Vitri Handayani, initiator and director of House of the Unsilenced.

“If there is no support in their neighborhood, then in this House survivors can find people who believe and support them. If they find it difficult to tell their stories directly or through social media, here they can learn various literary and artistic mediums” she continued. Participating artists and writers offer a variety of mediums: writing, collages, knitting, painting, drawing, singing, and others. Survivors can participate by attending workshops or working with artists.

“You can find writing workshops everywhere, but one specifically for survivors, that you can’t find easily. Here I feel safe, more confident, and brave enough to write the stories that I have never been able to tell others,” Eka Wulandari, one of the fiction-writing workshop participants said. Other contributors preferred to remain annonymous. One remarked on how she is slowly regaining her confidence after meeting new friends in House of the Unsilenced who believe her story, even after her closest friends didn't. “This art project is important to make more people understand how survivors struggle to survive and continue to live,” said another, a 3D collage and self-care body movement workshop participant.

House of the Unsilenced provides an opportunity to discuss issues that are still very much feared. “For me, personally, it has expanded my knowledge about the fear and shame I harbor in myself,” explained Salima Hakim, one of the artists, who also collaborated with survivors in her artwork, “Hurt, Rise, Forgive”. In the end, it is the courage to continue living, purposefully, as a human being and survivor, not a victim.

"Participating in House of the Unsilenced is helping me achieve my life's purpose: being useful for others, especially fellow survivors,” said Ningrum Syaukat, a dancer and choreographer who collaborated with Ratu Saraswati in “Lindung”, an art performance which focused on storytelling patterns with the aim of releasing the trauma of the survivors so they may finally control the situation.