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‘Dare to speak out against the silence’: SASHA Reclaim Exhibition

Lippy visits the SASHA Reclaim Exhibition...


On Friday 30th September, the Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault Society (SASHA) hosted their first in-person event, titled ‘Reclaim, ‘an immersive art experience reclaiming power by giving a voice to those who’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault.’ I spoke to the president and co-founder of the society, Chloé Schneider, to discuss SASHA’s work: ‘We support victims of sexual violence particularly in Leeds University but also within the wider community. We advocate for change by working with the union and clubs in Leeds to promote safer nights out and more of an active bystander policy. We do a lot of work on social media but we’re hoping to launch more in person events this year such as this art exhibition. Our artist tonight, Lauren, has created loads of amazing pieces from printed to testimonies to portraiture that work on reclaiming survivor’s experiences of sexual violence.’

The exhibition was comprised of art created by Lauren Royall, nineteen-year-old Fine Art and Contemporary Cultural Theory student at the University of Leeds. The sheer quantity of art on show, as well of the range of themes it covers would be an impressive feat for any artist, but the exhibition was especially admirable given the early stage that she is at within her career. I had the honour of sitting down with Lauren and asking her a few questions: How did this project come about?

I’ve always had open discussions with friends about experiences and wanted them to feel able to open up to me. I’ve always been interested in having open discussions about things that aren’t really spoken about and so [the exhibition] became a build-up of feelings, thoughts that people had put across to me, and then I built this collection. Some of the work was based on past projects but for most of it there was a starting point of interviewing people and just wanting to depict as well as I could not just the experiences of one survivor, but everyone, and the different ways that people can react and the ways that it can impact them. One thing that struck me was the real diversity of experiences you’ve managed to capture, it’s really impressive that you’ve spoken to so many people within a project that you’ve undertaken by yourself. What was the process like to find those people and talk to them? When I started reaching out to people there were some friends that I’d already had open conversations with but when it came to speaking to people who aren’t women it became something I had to actively seek out. I was amazed that people. I’d never even met before were willing to have me interview them. I really tried to capture that diversity as when things about rape and sexual assault came more into the media it was often a vulnerable white woman who was depicted as a victim, and I really wanted to capture that it wasn’t just that and that there’s not just one type of victim or survivor. There was a lot of trust in the way that people gave you their stories. Did you find what could have been quite a heavy experience quite cathartic?

It wasn’t really a feeling of heaviness, just a pressure to depict it in the way that people wanted me to. I felt very worried to show people the pieces that were about them because I wanted them to feel like I’d captured what they wanted to put across to me. I think I was so distracted by that that I didn’t really take on that feeling of upset of the experiences, it just turned into a sense of anger and then a passion to create the work. I wanted to keep a balance with a sense of liberation after the experience because I didn’t want it to just be a depiction of people’s experiences but also liberating them after. I really hope that this has been impactful in some way to anyone looking at it.

The exhibition was accompanied by a poetry reading by Saba Siddiqui: She didn’t want it. She thought she made it clear enough She didn’t want to night back in fear Fear of being hurt more by the Toxic Masculinity. ‘Boys will be boys’ they say She’s been taught to be seen and not heard. She’s been taught to just take it and not make a fuss. The power dynamic is unbalanced Why don’t they understand? Where are their morals? Now her life is changed forever Would anyone believe her? Will they say she is a liar? Would the institutions risk their name, their reputation? What about hers? Everything has changed and she is no longer the same Alongside the incredible art and poetry, the event was attended by two key sexual assault charities from the area: Support After Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment Leeds (SARSVL), for whom the event was fundraising, and Survivors West Yorkshire. ‘SARSVL offers a confidential listening service that provides emotional support to anybody that’s been impacted by sexual violence. We also have a counselling service and an advocacy service that supports women and girls through the criminal justice system. We make sure their voices are heard and make sure things are done appropriately. Last year we supported 817 women, but we do know that demand and need is much higher than that. We’re determined to sustain and grow our services. We’re in the process of developing a pilot project to work with street-homeless and sex-working women. A big part of the work we do is run by volunteers. It’s important to be raising awareness about these issues otherwise they just remain in secrecy and shame but by amplifying the voices of survivors I think we’ll help a lot of people to realise that they’re not alone and just how much of a problem it is and hopefully go some way to try and change that.’ – Jess from SARSVL

‘Survivors West Yorkshire is a male-focused sexual violence charity in Bradford that works across West Yorkshire. Speaking as a survivor, I’ve been out here campaigning to change society for 23 years and what I’m seeing now as I look around the room is something that’s actually quite rare, to see so many people in a space who are actually looking to explore art and the stories of survivors. And to me, it’s a representation of change that is coming in society. Currently it feels very dark, we see the statistics for convictions in the criminal justice system and it’s horrendous and scandalising. But before the system changes, it has to crash, and I think it’s crashing, and you’re part of the process that’s shifting it, because you dare to do art exhibitions in universities, you dare to speak against the silence, you dare to challenge it. And I think you should be really proud of yourselves, those of you who are survivors, and those of you who support survivors. Because society only changes if people stand up and actually push the change that’s necessary. In the end you’re human beings, and human beings do not deserve to be violated in any form or in any way, especially sexual. You don’t deserve to be on your own.’ – Rob from Survivors West Yorkshire The turnout of the event was phenomenal, and notably diverse, showing that Leeds appears to be ready and eager to open up a discussion about sexual violence. The event raised £535 for SARSVL, an amount that will go a long way to helping SARSVL continue and expand the inspirational work that they do. The work that is being done by SASHA is crucial to the current moment and the success of this event should lay the groundwork for more events to come. SASHA runs a tea and chat group every Wednesday from 4-6pm starting from Wednesday 19th October – come along if you need to chat about anything or if you just want to make friends!

The artwork from the exhibition can be found here: https://laurenroyall.com/SASHA_exhibition.html For more of Lauren’s art: @royllart For more of Saba’s art: @sabbasiddiqui_art For more information on SASHA: @sasha_uol For more information about SARSVL: https://supportafterrapeleeds.org.uk/ For more information about Survivors West Yorkshire: https://survivorswestyorkshire.org.uk/

 

Words: Sophie Fennelly


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