Theresa Walker – The Orange County Register – Women’s voices fill the room. They all talk at once, a cacophony that cascades from small, black monitors mounted at eye level on stark white walls.
All that can be seen of each is her mouth moving. And there’s only one way to know what any one of them is saying: stand close and listen.
“I used to think it was my fault …”
“Love is not supposed to hurt; it’s supposed to feel safe …”
“So please get help …”
The women talk of being ridiculed, controlled, dragged and thrown, stabbed, choked and beaten – by fathers, lovers, boyfriends, husbands.
They remain anonymous, even as their experiences compel public discussion.
This is how artist Cat Del Buono brings the hidden issue of domestic violence right in front of your face in a multimedia installation that opened this week at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa.
“In every community I go to, I want people to realize that it’s happening right under their noses,” Del Buono said. “I want people to understand the scope of what the abuse is.”
The exhibit is aptly called “Voices,” a project that the New York-based Buono has taken to cities around the country. At each stop, she interviews local women to include in the installation. Two Orange County women are among the 26 voices that can be heard.
The women sharing their stories are survivors – white, black, Latina and Asian – from college age to senior citizens and all economic strata. Some are in the safety of shelters; others have been through transitional programs and are on their own now, working, raising children, rebuilding their lives.
By forcing visitors to move in close to hear them, Del Buono is saying, “Pay attention.” It is art intended to increase awareness and galvanize communities toward greater involvement in prevention and advocacy.
“I don’t want to just bring awareness,” Del Buono said. “I want to bring change.”
The women in the exhibit talk for a few minutes each, some longer than others, in a continuous loop. Del Buono does not insert herself in the process; she just trains her camera on them and lets them say what they want, how they want.
The first “Voices” installation took place two years ago in Chicago, then Miami and South Carolina. Upcoming locations include Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City.
Reaching young adults and teenagers is a particular concern for Del Buono, who said she watched her mother be abused. To that end, the exhibit is timely in that February is teen dating violence awareness month. Del Buono would like to see a local college host the exhibit.
A coalition of nonprofits that work with victims of domestic abuse brought “Voices” to Orange County as an inaugural effort in collaborating on communitywide education and prevention. The Higbee Gallery, a fine arts framing business, donated viewing space for 10 days in an area above its vast showroom.
If they can find another available location, the organizers would love to keep the exhibit here for a longer period, said Gigi Tsontos, executive director of Women’s Transitional Living Center, the oldest domestic violence-prevention service in Orange County.
“We feel that there has been a lot of change in what’s happened in the last 40 years,” Tsontos said, referencing the 40th anniversary that the center marks this year. “But we still feel like this community is not confronting the tough questions – how to prevent it, where to start with children so they can learn how to cope and what do you do if you know someone who is dealing with it.”
At an opening-night reception Wednesday with Del Buono in attendance, a panel discussion included representatives from advocacy groups and local law enforcement, along with the relative of someone who was abused.
The number of domestic violence incidents in Orange County is hard to pin down, panel members said, because of variations in police reporting methods. But the 2014 Orange County Community Indicators Report found that domestic violence-related calls hit a 10-year high of 12,923 in 2004, decreased to a low of 10,219 in 2008 and began to rise again.
Anaheim police Chief Raul Quezada told the audience that during the past three years, his agency recorded nearly 9,000 such service calls. About half were substantiated as domestic violence, he said later.
Quezada urged the 100 or so opening-night guests to lobby their communities to invest in efforts similar to the Orange County Family Justice Center located in Anaheim, where comprehensive services are provided to children and adults affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and elder abuse.
“Every one of you has a voice,” Quezada said. “Say ‘I want a family justice center in my city.’ We’ll come and help set it up.”
In a phone interview earlier in the week, one of the Orange County women featured in the exhibit talked about how she grew up in an abusive home and came to see that kind of treatment as normal. The Register is only using her first name, Annette, because of her concern for her safety.
As a teenager and then in adulthood, Annette went from one abusive relationship to another, ended up abusing drugs and found help through the Women’s Transitional Living Center while in jail. She shares the complications of her story in one of the longer videos in the exhibit.
“I realize now I had this desperation inside me to be loved by this man and do whatever it took to make him accept me and love me, even if it came down to harming myself,” said Annette, 36, of the ex-boyfriend she says beat her during pregnancy, causing her to lose the child, and introduced her to drugs.
She has been clean from substance abuse for six years, dating back to when she entered a WTLC program. She lives in Buena Park, works as an office manager and just started dating again.
Annette has done speaking engagements about domestic abuse in the past, but found a different freedom in talking about her experiences in the “Voices” exhibit. There was no one judging her, she said, and none of the awkwardness that can happen.
“People are a little scared of you when you tell them. They’re nervous around you because they don’t want to hurt you.”
Annette attended the opening night incognito and, like others there, felt pulled into the women’s stories.
“Maybe it will allow people to become more compassionate,” Annette said, “and not be so standoffish or unsure of how to react to victims of domestic violence.”
To view original article click here: ‘Voices’ Exhibit in Costa Mesa Casts Light on Domestic Violence in Our Midst
Posted on February 11, 2016 at 11:06 pm