These women have deep pain. They’re turning to art to help them heal
When women have been sexually harassed, raped or abused, they often don’t have a person or place to turn to and don’t feel safe.
How do they deal with that trauma?
Some find refuge in art.
Recently, the Miami Herald spoke with women about their #MeToo stories, during a women’s circle organized by the Miami Workers Center. Those telling their stories were everyday people. They clean hotels and homes. They’re nannies and waitresses. They help care for the sick and the elderly.
Their words were so powerful the Miami Herald turned them into poetry and asked female artists to illustrate them.
Among the illustrators is Yuleidy González Nieto, a survivor of child sexual abuse who participated in the women’s circle in December. She said creating art is her way of healing, her way of dealing with her trauma and of helping others express themselves.
“Art is a positive way of liberating negative energy. Art heals,” González Nieto said.
In commemoration of Women’s History Month in March, we share these works of art:
Jasmen Rogers moderated the women’s circle. She wrote the words above: “Men have no problem … Taking up space … Even when that space … Is not there.’’
“The statement is purely powerful and speaks to the dilemmas we experience in a society that permits many incidents to occur in which men threaten women’s agency,” Ringer said. “We need to teach men to move freely with us and to not enter where they don’t have permission.”
Rogers’ words in the above illustration — “We take up space … By being in community… Together… And saying that we… Won’t tolerate this … Anymore’’ — inspired Jazmin Freire, an Ecuadorian American artist who grew up in Chicago and studies art in Paris. She created the artwork.
“All of us are part of the #MeToo movement. We are all a sisterhood, and none of us should dismiss a movement because we don’t think it has personally affected us,” said Freire. “It is important for people to feel heard. Once we are able to release our darkness, there can finally be light in all the little places we hide behind. It is important for victims, survivors, men, women, everyone to feel like they have importance, because they do. We should let our differences unite us because we all hurt in different ways.”
“This is us taking up space … This is us fighting for our dignity back … And saying that we deserve to have our dignity … That we deserve to have control over our bodies.’’
Ringer, who illustrated the above statement by Rogers, said she often finds herself having to fight for her own space, especially while leading projects: “I’m constantly challenged to take up space unapologetically as a women in environments in which men don’t think twice about taking up space and often don’t allow me to do the same.”
“Understanding that all of us have been… Sexually assaulted, sexually harassed … In moments when our body is not our own … Our minds are not our own … Our homes are not our own.”
Janae Lynch, an artist from Tampa who studies anthropology in France, illustrated the above words of Marcia Olivo, director of the Miami Wokers Center. Olivo decided to talk about the #MeToo movement during the monthly women’s circle to provide a space for women to heal and feel empowered.
When she read the survivors’ words, Lynch said she “felt a bit of anger, sadness. I felt that women shouldn’t have to experience these things on a constant basis. But we do.”
“It affects the way we are,’’ she added. “Our personalities, the way we dress, the way we walk, where we walk, who we interact with. It isn’t normal and shouldn’t be normalized.”
“It is like a flower… That sprouts another flower … And that flower sprouts another flower … I am the fruit of a rape… And I was also raped.”
An eye shedding tears in the shape of petals is Lynch’s interpretation of Milagros Jiménez’s moving testimony above. Jiménez was sexually abused as a young child.
During the women’s circle, Jiménez’s words silenced the room.
“My mother was a maid in the Dominican Republic,’’ she told the group. “My father was the owner of the house where she worked. He abused my mother and I was born from that. I think of how much my mother suffered during that time. These days, those stories stir everything inside of me.”
Yuleidy González Nieto illustrated her own words.
“I realized that… I was never… Not going to be… A survivor…Of rape… So I decided to… Own my shit … Deal with my shit… Carry my shit with me … And do something good … With it.”
At the women’s circle, she spoke publicly for the first time about being sexually abused as a child. Shortly after speaking to the group, she founded the art collective MotherShip, with Miami artists Toni-Symone and Sabii, to promote healing through creativity. They plan to host health fairs in Miami’s poorest neighborhoods and provide spaces for art therapy.
“Some of the best works of arts come from people who have been in very dark places in their lives, like people who cut off their ears,’’ said González Nieto, the gender justice coordinator at The New Florida Majority.
“We already said, ‘MeToo.’ Now what?” she asked. “We need to create community, spaces to heal, to support one another. I am never going to be free; I am never going to heal if my sisters aren’t free and healing.”
Thanks to Janae Lynch, Ángela Medina, Matías J. Ocner and Germán Guerra for their work in this project.