A loud collective voice can disable the prevalence of violence against women, a societal sore that festers and expands through the safety of non-exposure and systemic secrecy.
Voices, an installation exhibited last month at the Meta Gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, and that including a panel discussion, symbolizes the power of the individual and collective voice in the fight against domestic violence.
The thought-provoking piece by artist Catherine Del Buono consisted of several mini-monitors lined up against the four walls of a small room, each displaying the mouths of women speaking on their experiences of domestic violence.
The viewer encounters hellish confusion provoked by the deafening symphony of more than two dozen women’s voices. It could only be quelled by close concentration on a single monitor at a time, by leaning in and giving full attention to one woman’s story. Each monitor, and the woman’s mouth displayed, chronicles sad, horrific physical and emotional entrapment and assault. These anonymous women were filmed at The Lodge, a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Miami. The project has been replicated in several major cities across the United States, giving voice to survivors within those communities.
Voices presents the ability to bear witness as a weapon in the battle against gender-based violence.
Along with sometimes physical domination, abusers disempower their victims by regulating their sense of safety if they seek to use their voices. The victim/abuser dance, orchestrated by the abuser, is fed by a process of robbing the victim’s voice.
Women publicly telling their stories is both healing for the abused and a communal act of civil rebellion against the suffocating force of all abusers.
The voice of a victim breaks a cycle of secrecy — a vital ingredient in the diseased concoction of abuse. The use of the voice sheds light on the abuser’s actions, increases the possibility of assistance for the victimized and helps the victim regain a lost sense of self.
Voices is an avenue for survivors to speak out without the ridicule and judgment that they may have otherwise endured within other social spheres. The installation mirrors misguided social values that fault the woman instead of viewing her as wronged, creating the need for women to hide their stories for self-preservation.
Voices also illustrates that a robust assemblage of women’s stories can evoke the dizzying, appalled reaction that makes people stop, think and, hopefully, change their minds. Many of us simply can’t comprehend the brutality women endure. Yet, violence against women is a global issue of catastrophic magnitude. Voices offers a method that can be replicated on a larger scale for the kind of emotional connection that can result in broad impact.
Media, arguably the most prominent social structure that aids in the degradation of the female image, is also our strongest hope for mass change. Seeing and hearing the depth and breadth of the issue of domestic violence will compel us to examine our beliefs and communities.
According to Lissette Garzon, shelter manager at The Lodge and member of the Voices panel discussion, Miami’s multicultural landscape is an important factor in examining issues around domestic violence, as traditional gender roles are often transplanted from countries where, perhaps, men are valued as dominant, women are submissive and the idea of divorce is frowned upon. These beliefs often make it harder for women to leave abusive relationships.
Though the social idiosyncrasies may appear different on the surface, domestic violence and violence against women overall are plagues across all races, classes, nationalities and education levels. This is a global epidemic. When we can create greater opportunities for victims to be heard, shift our discussion around gender, dismantle derogatory representation of women in the media and cultivate a norm of speaking out, only then will we begin the lengthy process of paralyzing the silence that is the backbone of perpetrator culture.